How should we respond? Although it’s hard to accept, the answer is with compassion.
I was meeting with my men’s group yesterday when one of the guys got a text message from his sister in San Bernardino telling him of the shootings that had just occurred.
My first reaction was visceral. I felt a wave of nausea, followed by feeling enraged. I had no idea at the time who was responsible for the shootings, so my rage was general. I was mad at whoever had done this, at our country that seems so divided and hostile as we move into another election season, and at Homo Sapiens, our whole beautiful and sad species, that seems unable to live peacefully on the planet without doing each other in.
As I write this, it is my understanding that 14 people were killed and 17 more were wounded. “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” President Obama told CBS News.
This attack marks the deadliest gun violence in the country since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, in which 27 people, including the shooter, Adam Lanza, were killed. Following the Newtown killings I wrote an article “How to Prevent the Next Massacre” where I looked more deeply within to recognize and understand the rage and violence in me.
Once again, I’m aware of two conflicting forces that are competing in me. On the one hand I feel afraid–for my own children and grandchildren, for other innocent victims of violence, for the future of our country, and the future of humankind. On the other hand I feel a great deal of love and compassion—for my own children and grandchildren, for those whose lives have become so disordered and despairing that they respond with violence, and for all the humans in the world who are trying to survive and thrive during a period of massive environmental, economic, and ecological transformations.
I think of this story from my wife’s tradition:
ONE EVENING, AN ELDERLY
WARRIOR TOLD HIS
GRANDSON ABOUT A BATTLE THAT
GOES ON INSIDE PEOPLE.
HE SAID “MY SON, THE BATTLE IS
BETWEEN TWO ‘WOLVES’ INSIDE US ALL.
ONE IS EVIL. IT IS ANGER,
ENVY, JEALOUSY, SORROW,
REGRET, GREED, ARROGANCE,
SELF-PITY, GUILT, RESENTMENT,
INFERIORITY, LIES, FALSE PRIDE,
SUPERIORITY, AND EGO.
THE OTHER IS GOOD.
IT IS JOY, PEACE LOVE, HOPE SERENITY,
HUMILITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE,
TRUTH, COMPASSION AND FAITH.”
THE GRANDSON THOUGH ABOUT
IT FOR A MINUTE AND THEN ASKED
“WHICH WOLF WINS?…”
THE GRANDFATHER SIMPLY REPLIED,
“THE ONE THAT YOU FEED”
Once again we have an opportunity to decide which wolf we feed. Do we take in this experience in San Bernardino and respond with more fear, rage, and retribution? Or do we turn our grief into love and respond with kindness, compassion, and faith?
I’m reminded of the way one family responded to the Sandy Hook Killings in 2012. Scarlett Lewis lost her 6-year-old son Jessie, at Sandy Hook. She was able to move beyond anger and despair and turned her grief and loss into positive action. She and her family continue to be a source of inspiration to me.
“The day before my 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis lost his life at Sandy Hook School” she says, “he had written a message on our kitchen chalkboard: Nurturing Healing Love. The words ‘nurturing’ and ‘healing’ are a part of the definition of compassion across almost all cultures. ‘Love’ is the foundation on which happy and healthy lives are built.”
“Inspired by Jesse’s words, we formed the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation,” says Lewis. “Our mission is to create awareness in our children and our communities that we can choose love over anger, gratitude over entitlement, and forgiveness and compassion over bitterness. Our goal is to create a more peaceful and loving world through planting these seeds of wisdom.”
In reflecting on the young man who was responsible for the killings, her love and compassion are inspiring. “My hope is that Adam Lanza is experiencing the same kind of love that the children are now, in heaven. He might have had a little bit longer journey to get there, but I hope he has.”
Lewis believes that Lanza lived with years of pent up anger. “I picture him being a little boy with a lot of anger and no tools and no nurturing environment to deal with it,” the mother said. Following the killings Lewis and her family were helped by survivors of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. “It gave me perspective. If they’re able to forgive – if they can actually do it – then it is possible in my own situation. It doesn’t mean you’re condoning what they did. It means that you’re cutting the cord to pain,” Lewis said.
Reeling from this personal tragedy Lewis’ older son, JT, had the opportunity to Skype with orphan genocide survivors in Rwanda who had heard about the shooting and wanted to reach out to him. During the Skype call they told him that they were so sorry about what had happened to his brother and they shared their personal experiences of heartbreak where they watched many of their family members die. They told JT that through gratitude, forgiveness and compassion they have healed and are now leading lives filled with hope and joy. This started JT on his own healing journey and inspired him to give back to the people from around the globe that had reached out to him in love.
Knowing that these now young adults had no hope of going to college, JT set out to raise money to make their dreams come true. Several months after he began fundraising he was able to Skype back to the same group and announce that he had raised enough money to send one of them to college for a year. He has made the personal commitment to send this person to college for the remaining 3 years and hopes to do more. He started the “Newtown Helps Rwanda” foundation to continue support.
We all have an opportunity to respond to the latest tragedy. We can feed the wolf of fear and rage or we can feed the wolf of love and compassion. Scarlett Lewis and her surviving son JT chose love. We can fall into depression, give up, and withdraw, or we can move ahead and expand our commitment to doing good in the world. The choice is ours. What do you feel inspired to do?
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
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