Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Place Where We Speak

I'm a very angry person. I care deeply about a lot of things, and when those things don't go the right way, I get pissed. Personally, I like this aspect of myself because it keeps me fighting for justice. But I can just as easily turn my anger to self-centeredness and bull-headedness.

When I see a problem, I do my research and spend time looking for a way to fix it. If someone comes up with a third option, I'm not always happy about it. My solution was perfectly adequate and well-researched; we don't need a third party coming in and messing things up. I have trouble recognizing that other people's thinking might be as equally in-depth and viable--or more so--than my own.

But I get the most angry at the people driving the machines of injustice. Now, I know that injustice is often incorporated into societal systems so that it's sewn into the very fabric of how we live. Every single one of us has products whose raw materials were mined by slaves. It is almost impossible to not do so.

You can buy your clothes at the thrift store, grow your own food, and build yourself a yurt in the Oregon woods, but you'll probably still have a cell phone or a bike. Your power has to come from somewhere, and even if you've got solar panels to live green (hooray!), where did the raw materials come from that those solar panels were built from?

We can be responsible buyers and try to avoid slave labor as much as possible. That definitely helps. But there must also be a shift in means of production and of obtaining raw materials. Abolition of slavery is not impossible, but it isn't something one person can do alone.

I know that. No one individual is to blame. I know we're all part of this. But I'm angry. I want things to change today.

I know there are people who are suffering out there as I type this in my AC'ed office. Men are working for hours in fields without rest and only one meal. Tonight taskmasters will beat the flesh off of someone whose work they deem inadequate. Little children are carrying parcels the same weight as their stick-figure bodies up and down steep mountainsides where their friends and siblings have died from falling or exhaustion.

Women are bringing children into the world today, sons and daughters they conceived with a spouse whom they met in the slave compound where they themselves were born. Their baby is a third, fourth, or fifth generation slave brought into a world where nobody remembers what it's like to have an education, or aspirations, or hope. Young boys are locked in empty rooms with nothing but a bed, to be stripped naked and have horrible things done with and in their bodies. Later someone will come in and beat them until they pass out, because someone tried to run away and this will serve as a lesson.

These terrible things fuel my anger, making me feel that my anger is justified. I want to yell and raise my fist for the sake of the 27,000,000. I want to remind people day after day of the horrible atrocities that are going on while we live our lives wonderfully, blessedly oblivious.

I want to spew angry statistics until everyone sees the error of their Walmart-shopping, cheapness-is-a-virtue ways and decides to become freedom fighters. I want my anger to pour into you and make you as alive for this fight as I am.

But that's not how anger works. Anger is the heart-hardening response to the hurt that we feel. When we act on it, it simply begets more hurt and more anger. You can take the things that make your heart ache and turn that emotion into something productive, yes. But if you simply get angry, all you'll do is make others feel uncomfortable, judged, and injured.

Anger pushes people away. Compassion, on the other hand, welcomes people into the battle for justice without judging them for whatever part they might have played. It gives them room to be creative, to be themselves, as they fight for freedom. Compassion compels us toward change.

The pain and suffering of so many people in the world makes me ache. My anger is my way of trying not to feel the hurt anymore. Long-term anger makes me feel like I'm doing something. But it's really another way of hardening my heart against the suffering in the world.

Compassion is an open-hearted response. Compassion sees suffering, feels the ache, and decides to do something about it. Compassion recognizes that everyone in the world has their own hurt and baggage, and that you can't solve slavery with forced celibate monastic asceticism. Compassion says, "I believe we can do better," rather than, "Look how much you've messed up."

It's okay to feel angry now and then. But anger won't get rid of the problem. If I want to change the world, I'm going to have to keep my heart and eyes open. I'm going to have to see people fully--not just the ones in bondage, but the ones working to set them free.

In order to set captives free, we have to set each other free from the burdens we place on each other. The place where I speak is often angry. But that only burdens people. The place where I speak ought to be compassionate. I want my words to you to give you hope, make you feel loved and ready, and inspire you to fight on. I want you to know that any little thing you do--it helps. I don't want you to feel angry: I want you to make change.

Word count: 963.