Suffering begets suffering. Violence begets violence.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The very smart, very well-meaning college-age daughter of a friend scolded me, and well, pretty much every other full-fledged grown-up on Facebook Tuesday morning for our silence about the Michael Brown shooting verdict in Missouri. I responded by basically being a grumpy old “been there, done that” guy to her and her rather passionate friends.
She, and her friends are right. We older, allegedly wiser folks, are complacent. For the most part we look at ourselves and the world around us and shrug because when you’re at or near the half-century point, it looks a lot like your opportunity to leave a mark on the world has passed. I’m comfortable, and if I don’t look too closely at the world I inhabit, it mostly seems ok.
And it is ok… if you’re a middle-aged white man. Once again, Louis CK has nailed this one…
And that is the entire problem. It’s also why I didn’t say a damned thing Monday night on Facebook, Twitter or pretty much anywhere else. How can I solve this problem? I AM the problem. I don’t want to be, and I spent a very, very big portion of my youth trying to figure out how not to be, but I was outnumbered. At best, the vast majority of my white, male peers prefer to ignore the fact that we are bestowed with utterly unearned and undeserved privilege in American society. At worst, they actively pursue maintaining this massively unfair and destructive status quo.
This is what I should have said this morning in response to these well-meaning and righteously indignant younger folks –
I am sorry. On behalf of the white male population of America, I am sorry. I personally don’t view the world through filters of gender, skin color, religious affiliation, sexual preference or even hairstyle. I’m profoundly uninterested in what you look like, who you want to get it on with, which invisible dude in the sky you pray to or even what books you read or music you listen to. Heck, in my more evolved nearly-50-year-old state I don’t even care who you voted for. I don’t care what you like. I care what you are like.
Are you kind and compassionate? Do you have a sense of humor about yourself? Do you know how much you don’t know? These are the things that matter to me.
But I am not typical of my kind. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, most people do not live big lives. They live small, petty lives, full of jealousy, anger and guilt. They will tenaciously cling to any advantage they are given, no matter how unreasonable, or how unfair or unearned or undeserved that advantage is. They do not exult in the victories of others, but instead boil over, green with envy.
My rambling, and ranting today was a reaction to frustration that an injustice may have been done (For those of you ready to convict Officer Wilson in the court of opinion, back off – There is no doubt at all that he shot and killed Michael Brown. The injustice that was done by the Grand Jury yesterday was to deny the possibility that he may have acted inappropriately and with excessive force, refusing to conduct a trial to ascertain the facts. Wilson may be a lying sack of crap with an itchy trigger finger, or he may be someone who found himself in a terrible situation with a lousy set of choices in front of him. I don’t know. Neither do you.) which was being compounded by asinine, destructive behavior.
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
My use of Gandhi’s quotes is deliberate. Gandhi led his people out of British dominance and exploitation not by rioting and violence but through systematic and deliberate refusal to answer the violence of British rule and the British colonial military with their own violence. Gandhi also encouraged the people of India to refuse to participate in the institutions that were oppressing them.
Anger at injustice is normal, and to be expected from any rational and compassionate person. But acting out of anger to lash out violently is just feeding the beast. If you want a less violent world you need to start by refusing to allow yourself to be violent. Angry diatribes and labeling those who disagree with you as “other” than yourself is also counterproductive. If you want a world in which people are evaluated as individuals and for what they do, not what they look like, dress like, how they talk, etc. then you have to start that change by struggling with the impulse to see me as a “white man” instead of as just another person.
Anger is seductive. Anger is easy to hold onto. It will stay with you for as long as you’ll have it. But no great thing ever came of anger because anger is easy and great things are never easy.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
I do not begin to pretend to know how to fix this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. I just know, after watching the world spin for nearly half a century, that pointing fingers, being angry and taking sides just leads to pain.