Take a moment to look at this image and observe any reaction that may arise:
Now look at this one and do the same:
And this one:
Is there anyone who doesn’t feel aversion toward the images of destruction? Would anyone look at these and say yes, let’s have more death, pillaging, and exploitation?
It’s interesting to me how the vast majority of us have a natural aversion to seeing life destroyed. We feel repulsed, saddened, and shocked when confronted with destruction. Most of us have an inner compass that directs us away from harm.
The Dalai Lama has said that the reason the daily news distresses us is because it generally focuses on aberrant behavior. We’re unsettled by stories of murder, war, and destruction because most of us, most of the time, do not confront these realities in our daily lives. The news is what stands out.
Instead, we’re much more likely to encounter cooperation, kindness, and care. A friend reaching out to another in need, a teacher staying late to help his/her students, a stranger helping an old woman cross a street: these actions aren’t news-worthy, precisely because they’re so widespread and commonplace.
But even if we don’t see any act of simple kindness on a daily basis, we only need to remember that none of us would be here without it.
The paradigmatic example of this is mother’s love (which I’ve happened to witness first hand quite a bit these past few months!). It’s been truly incredible to me to see how responsive, sensitive, and caring my wife is. She swoops into action without a moment’s hesitation to protect Gabriel from my foolishness. I cannot help but think how she, like her mother before her, does this naturally, without having studied it. Our biology requires that others care for us, something that is true, to varying degrees, of all mammals .
As natural and necessary as it is to need love, we seem equally hard-wired to forget that we all required years of care to survive. Whenever we harm, deceive, or exploit someone else, we forget that the person was cared for and loved for years. Their mothers, like our own, spent countless hours feeding, washing, and caring for him/her.
This is a powerful meditation: whenever we encounter an ‘enemy’, or someone who upsets us, it’s helpful to remember that at one point, this person was as helpless and innocent as you were.
It’s important to observe and remember the reality of mother’s love because it can soften us, make us more patient and understanding.
It also has the potential to re-awaken the natural moral compass that most of us realized we had when we saw the pictures above. I’ve been wondering if ethics is a matter of remembering that we already know the right thing to do (broadly speaking, this falls under the category of moral theory called ‘natural law’). We all know the Golden Rule and can admit that it makes a good deal of sense. But we tend to forget it when we need it most, at least in part because we forget that, at one point, we were all vulnerable and needy.
Watching the spontaneous, natural love that parents have for their children is one of the most beautiful and odd aspects of our existence. Whether or not you see the parent-child relationship as metaphor for the God-human relationship (interesting to consider), it’s difficult to deny that it’s pretty crazy that life is set up this way. Thinking about all things that could possibly go wrong- the danger that no amount of mother’s love could deflect- it’s truly amazing any of us are here in the first place.