Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is There Hope? (Pt. 2)

In the comments on my posting regarding the "surge", one person (the mother of three boys) asks: "What can we do to foster some optimism in our children?" I have rephrased this question as "Is there hope?", and answered in terms of the current situation and realities as I understand them in part one.

Here, I intend to address the question of hope in a larger sense.

One question parents hope their children never ask - or have to ask - is "Why do nations go to war?" This is supposedly a very difficult question to answer. In the case of our assault on Iraq and Afganistan, however, I think a child could understand the answer. It's at least as old as Hebrew scripture: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Human beings are animals, and part of our animal nature is to strike back when someone hits us. The desire for revenge is ancient. In fact, the Torah instruction of equivalent retribution (no more than an eye for an eye) supplants an older model of disproportionate retribution — both eyes for one eye; the death of a family in retribution for a single death.

I believe one thing that distinguishes humans from other animals is the ability to dream of something better, and to strive toward that something better. I know, for example that my blog friend's 12 year-old son is a fan of Star Trek, which imagines a fairly utopian future on earth.

While that utopian future may be unlikely, there is a hope of making it more likely. And it begins with your son.

It begins with everyone's child, and every adult, in the world.

It begins with the roots of war. The roots of war begin in each human heart. The majority of American people initially supported the invasion of Iraq, fundamentally, because they were fearful or sought vengence in retribution for 9/11/01.

So long as we allow those emotions power in our hearts, politicians (and others) will use them to sway us. They will use these ancient animal impulses as excuses for their lies, which lead the general populace to cry for war.

I recognize this is no simple thing I am asking of my friend's son. I am painfully aware of how often I seek revenge, at least on a verbal level. This is profoundly hard work, harder than even Mr. B*sh can imagine.

The January issue of Shambhala Sun has a pair of articles that I recommend to my friend, and others who seek a ray of hope. The first concerns the founding of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver, and includes an interview with the Dalai Lama.

The current Dalai Lama believes the best hope for the future is to teach young people compassion. The example he uses is the compassion of a mother for her child. This compassion is similar to compassion you might have for others in your family. At minimum, you would hope no harm would come to that person; at most, you would hope that person would achieve health, contentment, and security.

The Dalai Lama suggests that it is humanly possible to enlarge this circle of compassion beyond one's family or a small circle of friends. He suggests the best hope for humanity and the world is for each human to view all of creation as deserving of this compassion.

If one has this compassion, even at the minimal level of hoping no harm would come to another creature, non-violence would be the logical result. If you are sincere in your desire that no harm come to another, then you will seek to avoid being the agent of any type of harm.

The second article, by Barry Boyce, concerns an experimental program in the New York City schools using contemplative practice. This program teaches breathing and self-awareness techniques without promoting Buddhist doctrines. The results, to date, have been positive: improved test scores, and non-violent conflict resolution.

I sincerly believe that, if there is hope, it resides in your son's ability to dream of a better future. It resides in the strength he finds by turning the other cheek when someone else strikes him or insults him. It resides in your compassionate heart, in the training you give your sons for compassion. It resides in my ability to seek compassion within myself and to perceive that all creation deserves that same compassion.

There may be little hope for the current situation in Iraq. What hope there is for the future resides in our ability to train ourselves for compassion and to practice it in every aspect of our lives.

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