As I sit down at my computer for a day of work, I take a sip of coffee and yield to the temptation to check Facebook and see what’s going on.
All I can think is, “Oh God, not again.”
Two more black men shot dead by police in as many days.
While the country still reels from the slaughter in Orlando. Which happened even though Sandy Hook should have been the absolute end of the line for this nonsense.
Shock, disbelief, and outrage surge through my mind and body. The scariest part is that this is becoming an ordinary occurrence.
What the hell is happening in our country? How can we witness such violence and suffering and do nothing? Because, essentially, that’s what we’re doing as a society to take care of this situation – nothing. Prayers, candlelight vigils, and blog posts are natural and necessary responses for many, but as a country we aren’t making any changes to speak of. We just point fingers and blame one another, and wait for the next disaster.
Here’s one way to look at this craziness:
We’re attached to our ideas – in political speak, these are called “values” – instead of being objective. We decide what’s going on and who’s to blame, and use our conclusions to navigate the world. We decide “guns are the problem” or “we need more guns to protect ourselves.” We decide “big government is the problem” or “we need to regulate things more.” We decide “cops are bad and racist” or “black guys are dangerous, it serves them right.” We decide “love is the answer” or “the world just sucks, so get used to it.”
In Buddhism we recognize that attachment to views is a severe handicap. As long as we hold tight to our cherished ideas, we can’t clearly see what’s going on. We can’t open our eyes, ask the right questions, or accept difficult or complex answers. Attachment to ideas is a problem no matter what those ideas are. No matter the view, it’s partially right and partially wrong. A view is always a generalization, while the reality we’re dealing with is complex and ever-changing.
What we don’t often acknowledge in Buddhism is that most of the same principles that apply to individuals (i.e. attachment to views is a handicap) also apply to groups of people – including political factions, organizations, and countries. Just as an individual can work to free him or herself from fear, small-mindedness, ignorance, and self-concern, so can groups of people. It just takes longer.
What does it look like when we’re not attached to views? We try to be as objective as possible and then investigate thoroughly, “What is going on here? What kinds of things affect what’s going on? What can we change in order to decrease the suffering?”
Then, when we find something – anything – that decreases the suffering, WE DO IT. As long as the action doesn’t infringe on basic human rights or exacerbate other problems, we do it regardless of how it fits with our cherished ideas about how things are supposed to work.
Do you realize how rarely we do this, especially as political parties, governments, and countries? Politicians argue back and forth about ideas and values, people line up behind them based on their ideas and values, and very rarely does anyone talk about facts or actual solutions. We’re so busy fighting over our “values,” we can’t be bothered to investigate and research what’s actually happening and what actually helps. In some cases, like investigating the causes of gun violence, the powers that be actually obstruct any study that just might result in greater gun control.
As one of the little people – someone who doesn’t have much power to directly influence government policy – what can I do? Maybe not much – but I can encourage and support thoughtful dialogue whenever I find it (like Obama’s presentation of his thoughts on how to decrease gun violence). I can challenge myself to recognize my views are just views – no good to anyone if I can’t see beyond them to what’s actually going on. I can continue my spiritual practice so I can cope with the inevitable complexity of life. And I can support change, remaining committed to the relief of suffering no matter how complex the and multifaceted the potential solutions are.