Monday, January 10, 2011
I'm sitting on the bus this morning, looking out the window, when I hear man shouting as he slowly enters the front door. Apparently, the driver hadn't moved up enough for this man, who appeared to have something wrong with one of his legs and was limping. I turn. He gets on, leans over towards the driver, a woman, and starts shouting even louder. He's bent over her so that he's almost in her face. I'm impressed by the basic calm from which she responds to this man, but I'm also wondering where this is all going. The man finally stops yelling, pays his fare, and sits back down. A few seats in front of men another man turns, and is laughing as he looks me in the eyes. All I can do is shake my head.
In the wake of the attempted assassination of U.S. Congresswoman Giffords, and the murder of six others, I have been contemplating what can be said. There have been piles of posts in the Buddhoblogosphere about it, and honestly I wasn't sure I wanted to add another. Soto Zen teacher James Ford posted an impassioned sermon on his blog yesterday, covering a wide variety of issues. Peter has simple post that quotes Sarah Palin and expresses a fear about violence in the U.S. many outside and inside the nation feel. Algernon's post expresses a sense that there probably won't be enough learned from this tragedy to prevent another one from coming soon. Genju writes that instead of just saying this is "part of life," we need to actively engage the actual circumstances of what happened, our own reactions, and our collective responses. Ethan Nictern calls for people to become resensitized to violence. Kyle attempts to consider all of this from the perspective a political moderate, which is, by the way, how Congresswoman Giffords' political views would best be characterized. And there are a fair number of other posts, many continuing the theme along the lines of where's right speech in all of this?
Here are few of my observations and questions.
1. The focus on psychological disorders, and views that this was just an act by some lone "crazy guy" are not only insulting to people struggling with psychological disorders, but is also an easy way to disengage from what happened. Instead of recognizing that each of us contain the seeds to be a murderer, and claiming some sense of responsibility for the society we live in, many people are choosing to label Loughner a "nutter" and wash their hands of it. Certainly, something is great off kilter with this guy, but he's also a product of a society we all are a part of.
2. Representative Giffords is Jewish and Mr. Loughner claimed Hitler's Mein Kampf as amongst his favorite books. I'm surprised there hasn't been more public consideration of this as a possible hate crime. (Law enforcement officials are looking into possible connections with anti-semitic and white supremacist organizations).
3. After talking with several dharma brothers and sisters yesterday during a board of directors retreat about technology and it's intersection with practice, I've been considering the impacts that "instant access" to information about violent acts like this, as well as the ability to comment on said violent acts, might have on all of us. When that man started yelling at the bus driver this morning, I keenly felt recall of the Giffords' shooting, among other things. Less than a hundred years ago, it was probably true that many people wouldn't hear about this event at all, and others probably days after the event, and not nearly at the kind of volume and pitch that news and reflections come to us today. Part of the weakness of Ethan Nictern's call to become more sensitive to violence is that the interconnectedness we now share through 24 hour a day access to, and even bombardment of, worldwide events is that even if you "unplug" much of the time, most of us still can't avoid being impacted by something that happened half way around the world. And in any given day, this might mean half a dozen or more awful, violent, or otherwise sad events, in addition to whatever is happening in our own lives.
A lot of people still struggle with the idea that "online" is real in some way, and yet it's so very clear to me that dramatic events like this have very, very real impacts on people. On the one hand, the interconnectedness of the internet can allow people to develop more compassion and generosity towards others they otherwise would never have even been aware of. On the other hand, the constant flow of "terrible news," from floods in Australia, potential civil war in Ivory Coast, continued misery in Haiti, to the shooting in Arizona can easily lead to an underlying sense of overwhelm, even amongst low level media users.
I go through periods where I greatly reduce the amount of news intake in my life, and I years ago abandoned TV watching because it mostly left me feeling drained and more deluded. But those are secondary responses. I'm convinced that humans as a whole haven't caught up to the technology so many of us are now embracing.
So, one of the things I am greatly interested in is learning to apply ancient spiritual teachings to our very modern cyber context in a way that helps us discern our actual experiences with new technologies, and respond from a place of wisdom regarding those experiences. This, too, is a path of peace.
Edit: Robyn's comment about male on female violence, as well as gun use, reminded me about this post I wrote awhile back. This is yet another element being under discussed in the Giffords' case.