To begin, I want to extend my sincerest thoughts of love, healing, and condolences for anyone and everyone that has been adversely affected by the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon.
I also want to state that I can understand the anger and outrage that is being expressed in the aftermath and that this response is entirely valid. What I would like to address however is the anger that continues to smolder like an ember buried in a wood pile, surreptitiously consuming the material surrounding it.
Sustained anger is a deceptive beast. It is the vestigial response to the fight-or-flight mechanism hardwired into our animal brain. The anger is designed to engage our self-defense mechanism, employing aggression to ward off predators and assailants. When the threat of immediate attack has passed but the anger persists we resort to seeking out potential attackers in every corner and under every rock. In essence, we look for a fight.
I’m sorry, but for those who defend their sustained anger by saying it is fueled by their compassion for the innocent victims, I say please try again. I see compassion in the form of the people running toward the explosions to provide aid for the victims. I see compassion as good thoughts and prayers for those injured and affected by these heinous acts. When’s the last time we saw an unruly mob of torch and pitchfork brandishers and identified their cries of “hang ’em” as compassionate? Compassion and anger cannot walk hand in hand.
I am not saying that the perpetrators are not deserving of justice and due process. I am saying that vitriol does not provide for a remedy. Retribution is merely reactive, never proactive. If punishment were a deterrent we would no longer have these acts of terror committed. Do we really believe that hurling epithets changes the world for the better?
Here’s what compassion means: Compassion means to take a moment to think of what inner turmoil must be transpiring in the minds and hearts of the perpetrators. Compassion means to attempt to trace the anger in their environments that fanned the smoldering embers into such expressions of rage. Compassion is tracing those positions of anger back to our own words, deeds, actions, expressions that may have contributed to the zeitgeist of intolerance, anger, and hatred that are part of the collage of attributes that define Western society. For any and all of us that are part of this society, we contribute to the forming of the society. As far as I’m concerned that spells culpability. I am not exempt. Few of us in this culture are.
Oh sure, we can walk around haughtily and state that we could never perform such a heinous act. We believe we can safely ignore the impetus that arose in these perpetrators, an impetus that incubated under the right conditions for them. Can we honestly say that if we had every single tiny experience as them, if we lived the exact same life as them, moment for moment, molecule for molecule, that we would not have performed the same acts? There but by the grace of God goes everyone except for me? Please.
For those who believe compassion does not work, perhaps we need to look at how well sustained anger has been working. We can’t say compassion doesn’t work if we have not yet tried it to find out.