I’m sure most of us held the people of Paris in our hearts and minds at various points over the weekend. I am amazed at the resiliency of people under time of duress like this, although I am also baffled by the capacity of people to do harm to each other. It isn’t something that would come easily to the vast majority of humanity, yet it happens and we struggle mightily to make sense of it when it does.
Friday night was the evening of an annual tradition among some of my friends. We are all lovers of fine wine, and every year we visit a restaurant that allows us to bring in our own special bottles of wine to share with each other, It is also a time to catch up on family stories, and celebrate all of the great things that have happened over the past year. It is a wonderful evening, but one that had a heaviness for me this year.
At some level, it felt wrong to be immersed in such a delightful experience knowing just how acutely some of the citizens of our world were suffering at that same time. We paused in the middle of our dinner to talk about it, and it was comforting to hear the affirmations of support for (I would translate that to love for) each person around the table and for every person in Paris, most specifically those directly involved in this horrific event.
What comes to mind as I hold the victims in my heart is that I think of the perpetrators of the atrocities. I have to admit that my mind goes directly to vengeance and to hold them to account. I think there is a natural instinct within us to respond to aggression with aggression, yet at some level there is an understanding that will only make things worse.
So here’s what I’m really struggling with. How do we find it within us to stand back from the power of fear and anger so that we can consider another way? How can we step away from feeding the cycle of aggression such that we can consider clearly what might be driving the behavior? What if we spent more time trying to understand not in order to change the other party but to create a better dialogue?
I don’t mean that we need to give in. Quite the contrary. I’m quite convinced that we should keep moving forward, and to not allow terrorism to alter how we go about our daily business. As soon as we do so, we have let the aggressors win. It is important to stand firmly in our own truth, refusing to bend to power inappropriately used.
But what if, when we take a stance in integrity and ethics as we know it, that we don’t attack from there? What if we stand on that ground and ask, perhaps repetitively, “what is happening for you right now? What can we do together that will make this better?” Instead of anger and fear, what about a bit of compassion?
I don’t want to over simplify this. It is a highly complex problem. But what if we started from what we have in common … our humanity?
Scale this down many notches to our day-to-day frictions with others. How might it work if we set aside our harsh emotions and reached out first to understand the other person’s point of view?
To our friends in France, be strong. We’re with you.