Saturday, November 14, 2015

The "Evil" Other

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

News stories like the one about the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France have a way of really getting under my skin. It always saddens me when I read of people perpetrating violence against other people. Such stories have a way of igniting or reigniting uncomfortable questions in my own mind. One of the foremost uncomfortable questions that has (re)appeared in my conscious awareness is this: "Is complete healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder possible?" I personally believe that it is. But then again you have to define what "complete healing" tangibly looks like. And it's also very true that people may suffer from PTSD due to any number of reasons. I believe it is therefore correct to assume that people experiencing PTSD have a wide range of potential prognoses.

Stories of violence made more destructive by human made weaponry are always particularly difficult for me to hear about. It seems only natural I would have such a response given the fact that some of the most severe trauma I experienced resulted from my stepmother's attempt to murder my father. Violence, whether it occurs between spouses, between races or between nation states, always elicits sadness in me. We are such a destructive species at times. And I think much of that destructiveness can be attributed to our (often irrational) fear of "the other".

I remember first learning about the "othering process" when I took a graduate class in the San Francisco Bay Area of California a number of years ago. I was able to grasp the idea behind this very clinical sounding phrase quickly. Writ simply "othering" is a way in which we as individuals or as a group make another group of people different...and thereby wrong. I have no doubt that a lot of "othering" language is currently being spewed throughout America in regards to what happened in Paris. There will undoubtedly be claims made by people of a conservative political persuasion that what happened in Paris justifies their belief that the proper policy response is to "kill all the Muslims". Such rhetoric certainly flared up in the days and months immediately after September 11, 2001. But from what I know Muslims are not the problem in this world...or even necessarily a big problem. What I believe is a big problem is undiscerned religious ideology unmoored from any genuine knowledge of world religions serving as the foundation for violent acts like what took place in Paris this past week.


My big "takeaway" from the tragedy in France is a reinforcement of my belief that people need to be seen, acknowledged and witnessed in their lives, both in their joy and in their pain. When people are effectively thrown away by their societies because they are perceived as "less than", dangerous, evil, wrong, bad and so on it often creates enormous damage in their lives. And it also provides fertile psychic soil for radicalization. One can see the ravaging effects of being cast away in any number of typically underserved and marginalized populations. I have witnessed it in peoples such as the Native American community, the elderly and the homeless.

I often feel we live in a highly reactive world where actions (being perceived to be doing something about an issue) are seen as having more value than simultaneously stepping back, at least for a moment, and really pondering what could lead people to do what they do. When reading about the tragedy in Paris I had the following questions: What were the lives of those eight people like who took so many more lives in Paris? Were they radicalized at a young age? Did they suffer immense deprivation and live in families that struggled to provide basic yet necessary things like food, shelter and clothing? Are their own nation states of origin zones of perpetual conflict? Do they believe the West is responsible for their agony?

I think I have lived long enough and worked among enough frequented disadvantaged and underserved populations of people to appreciate several truths: 1) despite all the trauma and hardship in my own life I am relatively fortunate, 2) reading about the lives of countless people who make up a statistic of some group that has suffered inordinate hardship is not the same as actually living such a hard life, 3) we will never successfully address the issues of our world if we automatically take a reactive stance rather than a responsive one, 4) gestures of solidarity are nice (like changing your profile picture on Facebook to show France's flag colors) but what about taking some action to look at the marginalized communities in your own midst and 5) there is not a person alive who cannot potentially thrive if he or she has sufficient support.

I really wish we would create a more thoughtful, compassionate, deliberative world. I believe we could. I believe we can. But many people are deeply fearful and feel deeply wounded. Fear rules many human actions.

It's the darkness in our own hearts and minds that must be attended to. We must first start with ourselves. Once we address the darkness in our own hearts, minds and lives we can then begin to better address it in the world. What a world we could create if we would stop killing, demonizing, maliciously gossiping and harming one another. What a world indeed.

Before looking outside of yourself look within.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!