The Mindful Response to Atrocities
I wrote an opening for this post that described the torture of a young boy in Syria.
And then promptly deleted it.
I wrote it again.
And deleted it again.
Finally I decided you should just read it for yourself.
The truth is, I’m often confused on how to process these things.
On one hand, I want to cry – and often do.
On the other, I recognize that crying doesn’t solve anything.
So then I decide to be happy and live my life.
Which only leads to feeling guilty about Instagraming pumpkins in the face of so much suffering.
In the constant back and forth between wanting to know the brutal truth of what’s happening on this planet – while at the same time feeling powerless to actually do anything about it – I can get pulled into very dark places.
For example, this morning as I was scanning my bookshelf I came across an old, yellow-paged copy of the Diary of Anne Frank.
Despite the fact that I haven’t touched the book in years, I reached for it in an attempt to understand how a child might interpret living in a savage time. This led to Googling images of her secret annex, which led to images of concentration camps, which led to images of death marches…you get the idea.
It’s a rabbit hole of misery – and yet – I still believe it’s our responsibility to go there.
Because regardless of how difficult a situation is to face – it’s always far worse to look away.
This is true in our heads, in our relationships, and, yes, in our response to crisis around the world.
At the most basic level, this is mindfulness.
In other words, it’s only when we fully accept the truth of a situation – no matter how painful – that we can deal with it and, ultimately, be free from it.
But there’s more.
It’s only when we actually learn from the pain of the past that we have the insight required to change our patterns and, thus, change our results.
And so as we hold our collective breath this week, waiting to see what Congress will decide in yet another war, let us not assume that the suffering of others – while unfortunate – has nothing to do with our own. But let us stay engaged knowing that, regardless of how powerless we feel, there is actually a way to overcome darkness that’s as old as time itself.
Turn on the light.
As Martin Luther King famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
In other words, the way to overcome the atrocities of our time is not to allow the darkness to make us dark. Instead, we must become more intentional about allowing our own light to shine brighter.
If that response sounds too simple given the enormous weight of these times, let me remind you that the world will only get better as we do – not the other way around.
But if you still need an example of the difference one person can make, I encourage you to pick up your own copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. Because even in the face of the unspeakable horrors of her time – she somehow found the grace to write this:
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Be the light.