Sunday, November 25, 2012

I sacrifice my vengeance

I spent my Out Day running around with my first-born instead of writing (I don't like to use the word "blogging" or "blogger"... it sounds like a character on a kids' show that reminds you to always use a tissue).  So, it's almost 1 a.m. and I'm still deliberating what to write about yesterday.  Then a stray facebook (which I was on only to gain inspiration) mention got me thinking about this... a fragment of a poem I wrote in an Ambien haze:

I sacrifice my vengeance
on the alter of my humanity.
Peace comes
not from the sacrifice of a life,
but the sacrifice of a death.

I'm still not happy with it as a poem (too much abstraction) but I can't think of saying this any other way.  Conflicts like the Israel-Palestine wars are too specific to take on, so take this in the abstract and apply it as you understand it, at need.

I saw a fascinating segment on 60 Minutes last Sunday discussing the innate morals of infants.  Studying both older children and babies as young as 3 months, the researchers found that even infants showed instincts for both goodness and justice, as well prejudice against "others" and other less flattering emotions.  The conclusion is that each one of us is both angel and demon, and it takes guidance to overcome our lesser emotions.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was how babies defined "others."  In the experiment, they offered the baby two kinds of snacks, and then had two puppets mimic eating each of the snacks.  A little later, with the snacks removed, the same two puppets were reintroduced to the baby and, almost categorically, the baby reached for whichever puppet "liked" the same snack.  Such a random criteria for establishing a bond.  It made me think of another study I can only loosely reference that showed racial prejudice in infants. 

What seems clearer now is that the prejudice would probably not be present (or as present?) in an infant who was exposed to a greater variety of ethnicities, particularly in a positive tone, since birth.  Many colored and shaped faces would simply be an attribute of baby's tribe.  If baby's tribe only spoke one language, on the other hand, then people who spoke some other language could easily be identified as not of baby's tribe.  And while it is sad to know that infants think very harshly of those "others," it is encouraging to know that this is easily overcome by guiding the child towards empathy.

We humans are far, far more alike than unalike, and there is so much opportunity to show children (and, we all wish, adults) how that "other" person is really just like us.  Prick me, and I shall bleed.  Or... meme me, and I shall like.

I've always been a bit of an emotional tuning fork, but lately I have become so hyper-empathetic that I cannot watch most television programing.  I know... that's not such a bad thing.  But the only "safe" channels seem to be HGTV and the Food Network, and there is only so much "House Hunters" and "Next Iron Chef" I can take.  The alternative, though, is bleeding along with Israelis and the Palestinians, and the parents of the missing kid, and the Pakistani boy who's mother was killed by a drone attack.  Because they are all my tribe.  And they're all me. 

So how can I hate or condemn another without hating me?  How can I justify war when every child is my child?  How could I avenge a wrong without destroying everything I care about?

At some point, vengeance must die.  It will never solve, it will never satisfy.  It is a baser emotion and we can overcome it.  That is when we earn our humanity.

...And that will have to stand for now.  No edits.  Night-night.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo.

    To piggy back on this, I think it is also important for people to expose their children to other cultures (without judgment) - take them to museums, ask a Muslim friend to invite your family over for dinner, go to a Dia de los Muertos festival, etc. There are far too many people (mostly white folks) who huddle together in their safe little bubble not exposing themselves to the rest of their "tribe," and seriously that's from where the hate stems. The fear of the unknown.

    I went through a period where I couldn't watch anything - not the news or even a puppy chow commercial - because I'd break down in tears. We can't change the world (or even a little part of it) if we have no idea what's going on in it. It hurts, our people are dying all over the world, but we have to bear witness and we have to set a better example.

    Thanks for sharing your brilliant mind - please keep it up.