The overwhelming reaction to the horror of the events in Paris last night seems to be a sense of helplessness in the face of such terrible violence and hatred.
Feeling powerless over events that are so far out of our control is an uncomfortable place to be and the immediate reaction is a desire to do something, to make a difference to save the world from future atrocity. Acknowledging this on social media might make a small difference to this feeling of collective dis-ease but the harsh reality is these are events under which we have very little control.
So we’re left in an uncomfortable position of apparent impotence in the face of a “Dark Age”, fuelled by the reality of the ongoing atrocities we humans seem to be inclined to inflict on each other and our environment. The feelings of despair and anxiety are only a stones throw away from myopic and black and white solutions : to take up arms to destroy the perceived cause of the threat; to blame; to judge ; maybe even to espouse some kind of fundamentalist views of our own. The engine driving all these reactions is the same: fear.
We know instinctively that anger and hatred can’t be fought with the same – that it will only escalate a thousand fold.
“Hatred and fear blind us. We no longer see each other. We only see the faces of monsters, and that gives us the courage to destroy each other.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I would argue that there are ways to meet this despair which have the real potential to make the world a better place – not by denying the feelings of anger and fear but by living with the intention of showing compassion and kindness to ourselves and to those we are close to. That we recognise our common humanity and resolve to live as far as we can with kindness takes constant practice and mindfulness to achieve and I’m certainly only part of the way there – but it has the potential to be transformative. It’s far easier to be thoughtless – it can feel better to get back at someone when they are unkind to you (at least it may feel like that to start with). It takes less effort to be reactive or not to care.
But when we touch another person’s life, our lives are being touched as well. One thing we do have control over is the shape we want our life to take.
“Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for kindness” Seneca