A few years back I had the good fortune to see and hear Thich Nhat Hanh in Boston. He recounted for us an event from the sixties when he had been part of a public panel discussion on the war in Vietnam. During the panel discussion there was one man who was vehemently in favor of the war. He was belligerent and was verbally abusive of any who were opposed to the war and also had no real insight into the war. Thich Nhat Hanh is of course a world teacher of peace. And he has known the dire suffering that is war. He told us that there came a point in the discussion when he had to excuse himself and walk off stage. He did so in order to get his anger under control lest he add to the growing anger in the panel discussion.
Friends, if even Thich Nhat Hanh can become angry in such a situation, you and I can be forgiven. Anger, contempt, fear, frustration over a loss of momentum in the struggle for justice – all are contagious emotions. And so is despair. We mustn’t lose heart. That arc of history is long, and it does bend toward justice.
Patience is a difficult and necessary practice. When all around us anger is rising – from one or multiple sides – we have to take a breath and remember that we’re in it for the long haul. And it is a long haul. We carry on and stand for justice. It is the nature of this struggle that some will not be able to endure. They are to be encouraged, not faulted. We must stay focused on relieving the suffering of the victims of injustice – and we all are victims of injustice so long as there is injustice. It infects us all.
But more urgently we must strive for the overthrow of any system or institution or tradition that by design intentionally reduces the self-determination of another. We have deep structural injustice in our society, as have many societies. It is so pervasive and normalized that it is easy to deny that it exists unless you are one of a group or class who are disadvantaged by it. We are a nation of good people – like any other nation. Good people can get busy with their own wants and fears to the point of not seeing that their neighbors are oppressed by the very system they benefit by.
Kindness is also contagious and so is goodwill toward others. When faced with any consequential situation I try to ask, What is to be my response? If I’m on my game – and sometimes I’m not – I’ll try to make the choice that is not self-indulging. I will try to speak up for human value. And it is crucial that I try to do that without further inflaming a situation or disparaging another. As Buddha taught, Hatred does not end by hatred. Only by love does hatred end.
I stumble often. I get discouraged, and I get angry. That is where community – global community – is crucial. We must encourage and comfort one another. When I falter, you can step up. We can lean on each other when we grow weary. We can pull each other along as we work for a just and humane society and a just and humane world. To that end we must learn to listen to others who will not listen to us. It’s not up to the angry and belligerent to stand up for peace and justice – they’re not ready. It’s up to the just and peaceful to have the courage of their convictions and step into the breach. And to have the patience and the commitment required to endure for as long as it takes.
Amor y Paz
I love you all