There are many currently living under conflict where they perceive they have an enemy. Those of us not in that situation cannot really hope to understand the agony of the losses people face unless we have had that experience ourselves. The price of conflict is very high and it’s an unfortunate reality that anyone ever has to experience paying it.
No matter what side of the globe we are on we want to do what we can to prevent any other human being from going through the gut-wrenching sensation of sudden and violent experience. This connects us and makes us all safer.
The media —the people who seek to describe or even create conflicts for society— focus on defining two (or more) groups, and from that fundamentally divided perspective they also create the frame for the intractable disagreement. In the news world, there is money to be made by stretching conflict out.
In daily reality these groups of people are casually described by the media –and eventually by us– with a single words when in fact they are vastly diverse individuals that have unique opinions even within within their own social, political or religious subcultures. There is no such thing as a singular ‘Canadian’ perspective, so to speak.
The name that we give any group is effectively useless when trying to define who we can actually work with because everyone would use the same words to define vastly different groups based on their own subtle interpretations of that word. When people think of ‘lawyers’ they do not think of Gandhi, for instance.
Imagine the enemy is a Canadian. Imagine an American is at war with Canada (okay, so maybe it’s a hockey game). We can say that the Americans are pitted against a Canadian. But hold on—the Canadian enemy’s Mom was born in Boston, and she went to school there and later in Virginia because her Dad moved around because he was a Commander in the US Navy.
So the enemy lives in Canada and has Canadian citizenship but half their DNA travelled up from America. Then add to that the fact that their Grandmother on their Dad’s side was a Navajo born in Los Angeles, so they’re also one-quarter Native-American on that side too—so the ‘enemy’ is 3/4’s ‘American’ but we’ll hunt them because they wear a maple leaf?
The conflict starts to feel thin, doesn’t it? It’s mostly made from words. But where’s the line in these words? Who gets to say who is what? What’s Black? What’s White? What’s Old? Young? What’s mine, what’s yours? These are all subjective concepts about which we have no firm shared ‘reality.’
This same truth holds for countries. We can name them whatever we want—and we often change the names —but whether it’s called Bombay or Mumbai it’s still the same place to tangibly live. We would need to tell people they had gone from Bombayites to being Mumbaikars, otherwise their minds could not think the new identity into existence. But is the person different, are just the thoughts they have?
Likewise, the concept of nations are quite recent and many are changing today much like the names of cities and countries. Borders are generally decided by post-war bureaucrats who innocently lack sufficient knowledge of local history and culture to make wise decisions, which is why they’re later often fought over.
Knowing all of this, why would we shoot at someone or hate someone just because they ended up on the other side of a bureaucrat’s pencil? It seems truly bizarre to hate someone —call them enemy— because they live just down the road but on the other side of an imaginary line??? We’re that inhuman that we can’t see ourselves in this other-named person because of the line that only exists in people’s imagination?
It’s rare for very well travelled people to think there are bad people concentrated anywhere. We’ve all occasionally met misguided people, desperate people, angry people, oppressed people, fearful people and people who took labels too seriously, but finding a thoroughly bad person with no redeeming qualities is quite unlikely.
This isn’t to say that people can’t do atrocious things, but if we don’t think that the horrors of war or intense fear would change us for the worse then we simply lack humility. All experience changes us.
If any of us were mistreated long enough we would eventually be capable of doing very ugly things. We must stay humble and be careful or we’ll end up accidentally doing ugly things to a decent person just because of fears and definitions, not because there’s an actual issue between us and them.
If we shoot an enemy or blow them up or poison them then we incur the wrath of their entire family and all of their loved ones, making our one enemy into six. This is going backwards. There is only one true way to get rid of an enemy, and that is to rename them. We must be like Abraham Lincoln who said, “Have I not destroyed my enemy when I have made him into my friend?”
We all have met misguided, desperate, angry, oppressed and fearful people. Some of them have labels that we have been taught things about for our entire lives. The real question is, can we see past those inherited thoughts? Can we still see their need? Recognize their humanity?
Embrace others with compassion, We must allow ourselves to lower our labels and love those we perceive as different. For just like us, they want their children safe and their futures bright. And one way to accomplish that would be to have more friends.
Buckets are filled with drops. Let us all go forth as individuals and be friendly. Because it’s those sorts of caring actions that really do help save the world —and we can all have a pretty good day doing it too.
peace. literally. s.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.