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Compassion: A Way Out of Conflict and Enmity

Compassion means empathy and imagining the perspective of others. The idea that “we are all one” may be dismissed as straight out of the 1960s. But that idea stays with me and continues to influence me. This consciousness of love and compassion is one of the pillars of most religions.

by Jack Bragen

If, and when, a person is able to view himself/herself and others from a fully aware perspective, the sense of compassion deepens, and “winning” a conflict becomes of little importance. This deeper consciousness of love and compassion, I believe, is one of the pillars of most religions, when practiced as the originators intended.

As a young person, I read Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes, the author and personal growth trainer who began his “Living Love” workshops at Esalen Institute and then set up the Living Love Center in Berkeley in 1973. Later in life, I realized that there seemed to be some questions and issues about Keyes and his followers.

However, some of Keyes’ basic ideas stayed with me, and they continue to influence me. One of these ideas would be considered by many to be “hippie dippy,” and straight out of the 1960s — and would be dismissed as such. This is the idea that “we are all one.”

When a conflict exists, invariably, both or all sides will have self-righteous anger. Both or all sides are trying to defeat their opponents. Both or all sides of the conflict believe their point of view isn’t being heard and understood. “Who is right, then?” you might ask.

In present-day world politics, leaders of countries suffer from the delusion that nuclear warfare is winnable. This is a very irrational type of thinking. Should there be a nuclear war of any magnitude, dictators or presidents of countries are prepared to go to their underground bunkers. But, they don’t seem to realize that at some point, they will need to come out of their holes in the ground. Moreover, when they do, they will discover … that nothing is left.

The political leaders would be left without a country to rule or preside over. They would find that the scale of destruction is unimaginably immense and that radioactivity has poisoned the planet. Perhaps the cockroaches would still be around, feeding on the remains of the rotting corpses of humans, their pets, their livestock, their fruits and vegetables, the birds, the deer, and anything else with a genetic makeup more vulnerable than cockroaches.

Should one side temporarily “win” a nuclear war, the victory will be short-lived as the entire web of life is engulfed in a series of catastrophic firestorms, radioactive pollutants and nuclear winter.

The type of mass violence and irrational behavior that currently plagues human beings is what I’d feared might happen prior to the end. I hope that I am wrong about that. If people become any more violent and irrational, we could be looking at a sign of The End.

Everyone functions from her or his own perspective. If we become able to imagine what things look like from the perspective of our opponent, we may no longer take pleasure in a perceived victory over them. This ability to feel empathy is probably one of the deepest foundations of compassion.

Now that I am older, I am perhaps more able to discern the senseless and self-destructive behavior of people. Some people believe that human beings are the best and most intelligent species on Earth.

Human beings are the dominant species (unless you consider the prevalence of insect life, which was here before us, and will still be here after we’re gone) because we have hands with opposable thumbs, and we are very good with linear thought.

While people are often very clever, with our inventions and our sophisticated thought, as well as societal structures that keep people busy, for the most part, we’ve failed to question whether what we are doing actually makes any sense. Most people simply do what they see others doing. And from this comes the habit of condemning another person when we find ourselves in an adversarial situation. People lack sufficient ability to reconcile.

In cases when conflicts lead to widespread discrimination, violence or all-out warfare, with some exceptions, all participants are wrong.

Leaders of countries resort to warfare in part because these leaders suffer from a lack of mental development. They are locked into their tunnel vision that focuses only on their own perceived needs, desires, anger, fear, and hate. This doesn’t make them “bad” people whom we ought to condemn. Rather, they are infantile and irrational, and their level of power is much greater than their ability to handle that power responsibly.

World leaders should work on making themselves more knowledgeable, more conscious, and wiser. The world needs more compassion.

Everyone sees things from their own perspective. However, if we expand our thinking to include the concept that others are doing the same, it allows for the possibility of peace, because we realize that the person we see as an enemy may be coming from the same motives as we are.

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“Imagine Peace.” Activists challenge the most powerful military in history to imagine a world beyond war. Carol Harvey photo

 

The Quest for Dominance Is a Threat to Life on Earth

by Jack Bragen

In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, the protagonist, Winston Smith, has been imprisoned and subjected to unimaginable torture for months, after a member of the Thought Police alerted the ruling Party about Winston’s rebellious dissent from the all-powerful police state.

After months of torture and brainwashing, the question arises: why are they doing this to him? Winston Smith, the imprisoned dissident, ventures that it is for the greater good. He is physically and mentally falling apart from the massive physical and psychological abuse, and he is on the verge of fully giving up.

The torturer O’Brien, a government spy who trapped Winston into committing an act of rebellion, replies, in a very sadistic manner, that this is not about doing good: it is about the thrill of dominance.

Possibly the worst evolutionary design flaw of the human brain, or perhaps the human organism, is the need to dominate others. Because of this, we are unable to peacefully coexist.

There is no shortage of examples; actually, there are far too many. This design flaw in how we were molded by evolution is a huge problem. It causes behaviors that in turn create massive suffering for human beings and beings of other species (known as “animals”). This “engineering” flaw contributes to economic inequality, war, violent crime, and all manner of other atrocities.

Human beings — not all of us, but many of us — prey on one another, and attempt to dominate, conquer and control.

I have heard a psychologist say that it is normal to feed on the misfortunes of others. On the freeway, when we drive past a horrible car wreck, there is a temptation to take one’s eyes off the road and gape at the accident.

When someone successfully bullies us, they are feeding on us. They may as well be biting us in the jugular vein and sucking the blood out of us. When people intentionally harm others, there is a pleasurable kick of energy in it, for some individuals. Power is being transferred through the exchange. Perhaps relief is attained because the bully could be transferring their hurt into the victim.

Thus, for those who are not whole, there is often the urge to dominate.

The mass media in the United States, (in large part through movies, but also other media sources) seem to propagate the myth that dominance is good and submissiveness is bad. This concept has existed for hundreds and probably thousands of years. It may have been inherited from earlier forms of life, preceding “Homo Sapiens” and it seems to be somewhat of a trait in other mammals.

Yet, other mammals, unlike humans, do not have the stewardship and the very survival of the Earth bestowed on us through technology. Because humans continue to exist with outdated instincts, yet have the physical ability to kill every living thing on Earth — and have killed tens of millions in wars of aggression and in brutal police states — we are in jeopardy.

The willingness to harm, maim, and kill, stemming from an obsessive need to be on top, and to dominate and control, must be addressed and dealt with. If we fail to do that, we are doomed.

Berkeley shelter closes

The closure of the largest homeless shelter in Berkeley leaves many with nowhere to go

Writing for the Street Spirit: My 17 Year Journey

Writing for Street Spirit has awakened in me a sense of responsibility toward others. Street Spirit is a way for people silenced by big money and big media to have a voice.

Animal Friends: A Saving Grace for Homeless People

“I wrapped her in my jacket and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

Tragic Death of Oakland Tenant Mary Jesus

Being evicted felt like the end of her life. As a disabled woman, she saw nothing ahead but a destitute life on the streets. She told a friend, “If I’m evicted tomorrow, I have no choice but to kill myself. I have no resources, no savings, no money, and nowhere to go.”

They Left Him to Die Like a Tramp on the Street

Life is sacred. It is not just an economic statistic when someone suffers and dies on the streets of our nation. It is some mother’s son, or daughter. It is a human being made in the image of God. It is a desecration of the sacred when that life is torn down.