In the midst of the migrant crisis on the U.S. Southern Border, I found myself baffled by people’s responses. People whom I thought had at least a basic moral core responded with flippant rationalization and indifference to the suffering of children. I floundered around, unsure of how to process the experience. Finally, as I was listening to one of my favorite radio personalities, Bill Press, I heard him state “This isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” It was as if someone had flipped the proverbial light switch; I saw in stark and exposed grain what before had been only edges and the feel of a bannister.
I’d figured I left behind concerns about morality with the dissolution of my fundamentalist upbringing. I realized that I am still very much concerned with it, but that the calculus has been rewritten. My version of morality is encircled by the degree to which any particular behavior causes the suffering of a human being, and, to a lesser extent, any part of Nature. What compunction do we have to compel people to care about others if there is no threat of hell or reward of heaven at the end? This article hit home for me my feeling of helplessness in the face of an unwillingness to consider the needs of others who are different, and it was written a full year before the latest horrors. Rather than turning away from my feelings, I sank into them to contemplate, for today’s #Thealogy and #EmbodiedHeart post, what morality means from the perspective of my pantheistic Earth-based Goddess Spirituality belief system.
Owning Our Own Moral Failings Before They Own Us
I cannot deny the wisdom of taking the plank out of our own eye before we look for the speck of sawdust in another’s. I believe we need to clean our own house of hypocrisy and lack of heart towards those with whom we struggle to empathize. I do not think this means we need to devote all of our energy to reaching the very people we struggle the most to humanize. Rather, we can at least refuse to dehumanize anyone and can refrain from stereotyping others. I’ve been surprised at my own willingness to write off entire states, for instance, as places I view as “less than.” Unrelenting passion for each person’s worth as a human being builds the strongest bridges. When we realize we’ve fallen short of this idea, self-compassion can keep us from shame and can allow us to make fertile compost of the scraps of our failure.
I’ve pondered this topic previously in response to sexual abusers. I do not think we owe everyone the same offering of compassion, especially if we were specifically victimized by them. We can spend our time trying to force drops of love out of stone, or we can unload the buckets of it that overflow from places where we’ve been wounded. In other words, most of us have people in the world with whom we readily empathize and for whom we care deeply; I do not think channeling our compassion towards these individuals is cowardice. Trauma survivors, in particular, risk re-traumatization if we continually frustrate ourselves in attempts to win over those who are cutouts of the ones who abused us or the ones who allowed us, through their indifference, to be abused.
At the same time, if it isn’t our own life’s purpose, we can welcome and support those who are able and willing to walk the long road towards those we see as “enemy,” flowers of hope in hand. Some are here to seek out the most vile beings in order to seed and water the tiny, crusted nugget of humanity in them, and I wish them well in their work. This story, for instance, of the blues musician Daryl Davis who convinced dozens of Klan members to leave and give him their robes speaks to this type of mission and inspires me.
Even the Monsters Are Human Beings
People can be evil, but the people who frighten me the most are those who explain away the evil ones. Knowing that a person finds it acceptable to worry solely about “me and mine” and cares not for anyone who, by sexual orientation, gender identity, ableness, race, religion, national origin or age is outside of their circle terrifies me. There is no level of atrocity that is “too much” if we write off entire groups of people. I do not think we need to force ourselves to beg and plead for these people to see the light, but we cannot discount them as being worth less or worthless. My heart tremors with the knowledge that each of us as humans can dim our light of morality if we do not give it careful and sustained energy.
We need people to rise above blind outrage and hatred; some of us to pour ourselves into caring for the victims, and some of us, with tears streaming down our faces, to compel the hard-hearted to soften to the suffering of the least of us. Anger is a wholly appropriate response to victimization; even in our anger, I believe the tender spots in our heart, raw and bleeding, will not be healed if we slip into a caustic hatred that degrades and dehumanizes our oppressors. Instead, anger must galvanize our feet and our hands and our voices to protest, to hug, to write, to do whatever it takes to scream our demand that no one is outside of the family of humanity; we harm ourselves when we kill, maim and imprison each other.
Moral Character Is A Work in Progress
All that we can ask of ourselves, I believe, in terms of our own morality is to be willing to examine and re-examine ourselves, bathing our wounds in the warm light of compassion and prying from our frightened hands any sticks of bloodlust with which we wish to bash the oppressive forces that seek our submission. No one arrives at a place of enlightenment from which all decisions and all impulses are purified. We are primates who, through whatever evolutionary quirks, can see or hear the cries of other primates we’ve never met and, on a soul-level, wish to tear apart any barriers, wire by wire, in order to free them. Let us, in our desire to rid the world of pain, be ever vigilant and careful not to fall for the cheapest form of self-esteem—the Light found me and I’m better than I was yesterday, so I must be better than you. Goddess as Earth surrounds each of us; we are all part of Her world and deserve to be treated as such.
How do you sit with instances of immorality when you see others suffering? How do you respond to those who are indifferent or who are committing evil acts, and to what extent do your actions retain the acknowledgement of their humanity? How do you direct your compassion?