It is still too early to know exactly what happened, who what where and perhaps the most important question: why? What is clear is that something terrible has happened. Response from all over the world is pouring in, and besides the initiatives where the people from Paris open their doors for stranded fellow-Parisians to find a shelter for the night, there are also possible violent reactions. Which is what this event is also the beginning or continuation of, fear of violence and revenge. Which response is appropriate now? A reflection by Nicole des Bouvrie. First published on Zinweb.nl (in Dutch).
Eye for an eye – or did we move on already?
I would like to believe in a progressive civilization, one which learns from history and slowly transforms and develops itself. Looking from my Western perspective I can see we started with the “eye for an eye” mentality, which slowly transformed into a law systemin which deeds form the central focus point. Not the person itself, but the act is nowadays to be judged. Which means, that there are no evil people, only evil deeds. Which is a very French idea by the way (existence precedes essence, the basic idea of existentialism), propulgated by people like Sartre and Camus, who lived in the time in which the French borders were closed as well. What will be the perspective for which our generation will be known? How will we respond to events like the ones in Paris last night?
It seems as if we took a step back from the idea that our deeds determine who we are. Instead of our deeds, it seems there are other things that determine who we are. When we truly only judge based on what has happened, we cannot judge people based on their place of birth, economic or social status and religious affinity (which, let’s not forget, is still mostly determined by the place and the parent to which one is born). The idea of revenge and violence against the refugees from Syria throughout Europe is out of the question – no matter whether or not these attacks are more or less related to that issue.
“France will be merciless”
But there is another consequence of judging only deeds and not the person. A human being is never evil. Every human being has the choice to act in the manner in which he acts – even if this is somewhat limited (I’m still not able to fly, unfortunately). What we do, our ‘free will’ is tremendously limited by the paradigm in which we find ourselves. When we would live in a world in which we are all convinced by the idea that “when a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace”, already said in Paris in 1911, then we would not see a French President on the television who talks to his people in a war-like fashion. (Although his thanking and support for the victims and the first aid workers should not be overlooked.)
“When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.” – Abdu’l-Bahá
Is longing for peace a reason to not judge evil deeds? Surely not. Are the terrible attacks a reason to stop doing good deeds, working towards peace? No. Is thinking we can help the world by praying, or by having a stronger thought of love naive? Probably. But it is only naive when we don’t realise that many things will need to be changed, that many things will happen, many horrible things, before we can step outside the circle of revenge. Which will happen until we realise the old world order will need to change before true change can come about. A process like giving birth, without knowing we’re pregnant. Pregnant with something new, something invisible and from which we see all the negative side effects. Us is the choice to decide what we want to occupy ourself with. The painful side effects or the potential of the new child.
Another response: compassion
Let us have compassion. Which is not to say we should love and forget. Let us have compassion, so beautifully explained in Buddhism as the wish to remove the causes of pain and suffering. A very different kind of response than one of revenge – even though outwardly the actions resulting from these different approaches may very well be the same. But with the intention of the end of all suffering, the vicious circle of revenge is broken. Compassion is an active approach, a call to action working towards peace.
And one can asks if this is naive, it is up to everyone to decide this for one self. But I’d say that the eye-for-an-eye approach is what is naive. As Einstein allegedly said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
Whatever you decide, response is very welcome.
Written early Saturday 14.11.2015