~David Inglis, July 2022
We are being inundated by animosity at every level, from international to cultural to political to our own family and friends. Our nerves are jangled, our hearts our troubled, and our hopes for solving the existential problems that face humanity are strangled. What is driving this hostility that permeates our society?
We can blame it on the social media algorithms that trigger our outrage to keep us on our screens; we can blame it on the politicians who rile up their base to garner power and donations; and we can blame it on our human propensity to glorify our own tribe and project our shadows onto the “other.” All of these factors are certainly contributing to these conflicts.
But if this is as deep as we can discern, our conflicts with each other will never really be resolved. The deeper truth is that conflicts and strife are integrally woven into the very way we perceive the world, ourselves and each other.
Most members of our society grow up with the sense that we are essentially a lone individual facing a world where we can easily get hurt, get rejected, get left out, get left behind, and inevitably die. So our culture tells us we have to look out for number one and compete for our share of power, stuff, status, success, and security. We have to strive to be enough, have enough and do enough to make the grade. We mistrust anyone or anything that is unfamiliar or different, because they might want to take what we have or deserve.
From this perspective, the only way we can see to create peace is to control, defeat or eliminate those who threaten us. “Keeping the peace” by overcoming the dangerous “bad guys” is called the myth of redemptive violence. It provides the narrative of everything from wars to politics to video games to cartoons.
Can you see any path to real peace from within this perspective?
Albert Einstein famously said, “The problems we are facing can’t be solved by the same consciousness that created them.” The threats to each other and to our entire planet that we have created out of our consciousness of separation, competition, and domination are demanding of us a higher level of consciousness. Einstein points the way:
A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.…Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature in its beauty.
So let’s see if, with the help of modern science, we can transcend our self-centered, anthropomorphic perspective and expand our perception and our circle of compassion to encompass the whole living Earth.
We humans are one of millions of a dizzying array of species that have somehow evolved from a ball of inert rocks, water, and gas. We now know that the primary driver of evolution has not been competition, but cooperation. Nature has devised countless ways for different life forms to share water, nutrients, carbon, and oxygen with each other, including the symbiosis between our own bodies and the microorganisms within them that vastly outnumber our human cells. In fact, with the oxygen from trees, the water from oceans and the carbon from soil constantly moving in and out of our bodies, there is no clear line between ourselves and the Earth. We are Earth living itself, becoming conscious of itself, evolving itself, and appreciating itself.
Mystics, sages, shamans, and a growing number of ordinary people have sometimes transcended their perception of being essentially a-lone and directly experienced being essentially all-one with the Earth, the Universe, or the Reality that underlies the “real world” of our ordinary perception.(1)
So rather than being alone in a threatening world, we can see that nothing and no one exists in and of itself–everything is interconnected with everything. We live in a network of mutual interdependence that has mysteriously evolved to creatively generate, sustain and evolve life at a wondrous level. Within this network, everything has a place and a contribution to make. Death is a necessary part of the ongoing process of life, decay, regeneration and evolution. In death, nothing disappears, but simply changes form–including, according to many, our own consciousness.
If this is our perception of the world, then our fear of the world becomes transmuted into trust, reverence, gratitude, generosity, and service. Our life is enriched as we stretch to appreciate and understand people and experiences that are unfamiliar to us. We come to see that our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the whole are inseparable. So it’s only natural to do what we can to mend the places that are torn, lift up what has been diminished, restore what has been damaged, listen to what has been silenced. And we start with the torn, excluded, silenced parts of ourself that our own ego has repressed or rejected out of its fear, pain, or judgment. The more fully we can accept all parts of ourselves, the more easily we can embrace others, no matter how different from us they initially appear, thus enriching our sense of being part of the whole human family.
From this perspective, we might see the people we find ourselves in conflict with, as those who are struggling with the most fear, such as the fear of powerlessness, of deprivation, of exclusion, of inferiority, or of shame. Like us, they are struggling to get their needs for agency, freedom, security, affirmation, or belonging met in the best ways they know how, given the choices they can see.(2) Some of these people are at earlier stages of mental, emotional and cultural development (as we all once were). Some of their development was truncated by abuse, trauma, deprivation, or systemic injustice, or oppression. Some of them are trying to be loyal to what they learned, to the authority figures who taught them, to the groups that give them their sense of identity and purpose, or to the short-term needs of their own families. Some of them are making choices that they will someday come to regret, as we all have.
Are these people our enemies? Are they the “bad guys” who need to be defeated by us “good guys?” Or are they members of our human family–a microcosm of our own family with its mix of characters with a variety of needs and skills in getting them met?
To be sure, some people are doing things that present real dangers to us and to others. Fear triggers the autonomic nervous system, which overrides the rational mind and sometimes drives people to extreme behaviors. So there are times for us to actively take a stand for the highest good and courageously protect the vulnerable from harm. But if we demonize, demean or defeat those whose behaviors we oppose, we only fuel their fear of shame, exclusion, and powerlessness, which will likely escalate their destructive behavior. If we treat them as other, they become other, if we treat them as us, they are us.
The truth is that our real enemy is one that we and those we oppose have in common. Our common enemy is fear. Our common fear that we are essentially alone in a dangerous world sets us up for competition. And our common fear that the other side is actively working to thwart our efforts to get our basic needs met turns competitors into bitter enemies. And those who benefit from this divisiveness are fanning the flames that our fears have fueled.
If we want to be a force of unity in this conflicted world, we have to deal with our fears. So ground yourself for a moment in the big picture of who you truly are–an expression of Life itself, transmutable but not destructible, with a purpose and part to play in the ongoing evolution of Life. This is a place of genuine power that flows into you with every breath and that wants to express itself through you as you offer your gifts to serve the highest good. No matter what circumstances you are in, you always have the power to choose how you respond to those circumstances–with fear or with love. Continually choosing love (not as a feeling but as an action) keeps you from going into reactivity and enables you to respond with creativity. Rather than employing power over your opponents, you seek ways to employ power with them. This power is what Gandhi termed satyagraha, translated as “truth force” or “love force.” This was how Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ultimately disarmed their enemies. They refused to see those who opposed them as enemies, returned hate with love and respect, and always sought to activate the best in them rather than trigger the worst.
If you can maintain this awareness of our mutual embeddedness in this web of life, every step you take will be on the path to peace. It will give you the heart to listen to the crying needs underneath obnoxious actions. It will give you the groundedness to open up difficult conversations by active, compassionate listening. It will give you the vision to help create solutions that respect everyone’s needs. It will give you the charisma to inspire others to transcend their fears and step into their highest selves.
This is the basis of Gandhi’s insight, “There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.” We can’t walk to peace; we have to walk in peace. We can’t look for it outside ourselves; we have to embody it in and as ourselves. We can face the conflicts of the world with the simple mantra, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” That’s where it begins. But as you are sure to discover, that’s not where it ends. This radically different way of perceiving the world, ourselves and each other carries the DNA of a whole, new world. Being carriers of that DNA makes us an evolutionary force of peace.
(1) An increasing number of cutting-edge scientists are sounding like mystics as well. You can read several remarkable examples here: Scientists on consciousness as basis of reality
(2) For an illuminating 8-minute video about the universal needs driving our polarity, go to Beyond Polarity | KarmaTube. And for a good list of universal needs (inspired by Nonviolent Communication), see this Needs Inventory. For more relevant resources, see Follow-up to June 5 22 SOH: “Creating Fields of Peace in Minefields of Conflict”
If this blog piece resonates with you and you feel called to help create a more sustainable, just, and fulfilling world, grounded in interconnectedness, you are welcome to explore the Pachamama Alliance of the Rochester Area (PARA) as a community of mutual support.
We meet on the third Wednesday evening of the month to inspire and support each other in our emerging intentions and projects, and to create new points of collaboration and connection.