Feeling disconnected from others and one’s own heart, lacking empathy for others, not seeing them as fully human, lacking a sense of how we are all interconnected, causes conflict and enables violence. I believe this is true whether we are talking about acts of terrorism or road rage or cruelty to a co-worker or family member.
Why? Because when people’s hearts are shut down, they cannot feel the impact on another. When people’s hearts are shut down, they are cut off from their own grief, love, and compassion and are capable of horrible acts. The sad thing is that people’s hearts often shut down because they themselves experienced cruelty or horror, felt abandoned and loveless, or had resentments handed down to them generationally. Lacking knowledge about how to forgive and heal, they put deadening walls around their own hearts instead.
People don’t commit terrorist acts against tourists, Moslems, Christians, Jews, gay and transgendered people, African Americans,immigrants, or women because they feel empowered as part of a loving community. They commit them because they have been brainwashed into hate, because they feel powerless, victimized, alone, alienated, or because they have given up on this beautiful imperfect world, seeing it only as a source of pain and pinning all their hopes of joy and peace on an apocalypse/heaven. Do they need to be stopped and held accountable? Of course. But continued violent response without love only breeds more violence.
What can we do instead to stop and heal this pattern? We can start with compassion and gentleness for ourselves and others. We can remember that we are all interconnected, and interdependent, that every person matters. We can start where we are and support opportunities for true listening and dialogue, for forgiveness, and for education, healthcare, living wages for all in our own communities and in other countries. We can support others to let go of their stories of hatred and victimization. And, most important, we can have hope and trust that change and transformation are always possible and our small actions can be a part of that.