I read an article once about tribalism — it was some pseudo-scientific sociological essay that sought to explain if not excuse racism. It purported that we gather in like groups for protection, and that we, as human beings, naturally shun what is different and fear what we don’t understand — and that fear is a survival mechanism.
I thought that in some ways it made some valid points, but then, it reduced humans to little more than chemical reactions and genetic triggers and actors in a pre-designed script. I’d like to think we’re more than that. I’d like to think that we can choose to think outside of those boundaries and embrace each other as all belonging to the human race. I’d like to think that people are people.
At least, the idealist in me wants to believe that.
I’m supposed to be writing something about compassion, and yet I’m filled with cynicism. I know that tomorrow, some fundamentalist group will attack and kill someone or ones that represent who they see as their enemy. I know that as I type this, some cop is likely pulling the trigger based on his or her own prejudices rather than proper cause. I know that right now some soldier is laying down their life because they think they’re doing their patriotic duty, but really, they’re being used as pawns in some asshole’s political game. I know that right now, some woman is being raped, and in her heart, she’s been programmed to believe that somehow it’s her fault. I know that right now, some child is having their childhood stolen from them by a father who should have never had children.
I couldn’t really decide what I wanted to write about, and I’m not even sure if you’re still reading this, but I often think about the strange world we live in — this Internet generation, where we are subjected to pain on a truly global level all day every day, if we choose to let it in. This on top of the every day conflicts of our personal lives, and for those of us who feel things SO deeply, it can truly be debilitating. I sometimes break down, or have to withdraw. It’s too much.
But I’m not being very focused, and I apologize.
I remember high school. The worst best years of my life. I learned a lot of hard lessons that have stuck with me, about the surface of things, and what you never see. The world has learned some hard lessons about what lies beneath the faces of angry children. I’m talking about the masks that we wear, some of us better than others. Some people wear masks of anger for protection — but it’s only because they are so hurt inside. I was a very angry child; a furious teenager. I was outcast, a loser. Weird, strange, odd, a loner. In a different culture, I might have been the type to climb a watchtower and take shots at my classmates — I certainly had enough hatred in me. They treated me terribly. I fantasized about suicide all the time, between life at home and life at school, there was nowhere I could go to feel safe from bullying and abuse.
One day, I left for school to get on the bus, and I’d just received a beating from my father. I did my very best to keep it together, but ended up burying my face in my coat and crying. Of course, I ended up being mocked all day, and for days afterward. Most of my school career was spent being mocked for one reason or another. I got jumped a few times by people I didn’t even know, and had no reason to fear, except that they apparently knew me, and wanted to hurt me.
I learned very early that people are cruel. It gave me an eye of recognition for others like me that might be in silent pain. Those people that wore masks of anger or fear, those that preferred to be by themselves than in a crowd.
It made me compassionate toward people, because I learned not to judge by what face they showed to the masses. I had a secret friendship with one of the most popular girls in my school, because she hated the people that called her friend. She used to come and sit with me sometimes at lunch and together we’d play guitar — we used to do a pretty good version of Wish You Were Here. In public, I didn’t exist, really. It’s shitty, looking back, but that’s how it was. Later, I’d learn she’d become a heroin addict — she had some pain of her own, you see, but nobody saw it until it was too late.
So I’m supposed to be talking about compassion, but everything that I came up with in my head seemed to trite, or too disingenuous. We’ve moved WAY beyond the 1980’s Whitney Houston I believe the children are the future… or We Are the World. We didn’t feed the children of Africa, we haven’t cured AIDS, there are still assholes in the world that picket gay weddings — hell, there are still assholes in the world that wave the Nazi flag — in about 10 seconds, you could do an internet search and find things that would make your stomach churn. So instead of the big picture — this ENORMOUS GLOBAL VILLAGE we now live in (gee fucking thanks, Marshall McLuhan), my little talk about compassion is directed to you and you alone. Yeah, you. Are you still reading?
I read a great graphic novel one time (actually more than once — it may be my very FAVOURITE graphic novel, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, called Signal to Noise) and it was about the end of the world. Not entirely, but that’s where it starts. It states that the world is ending every day — for someone. Sort of puts the EGO on a pedestal, but it’s true. Our world can be as big as a circus tent or as small as our arm’s reach.
If you want to change the world — change YOUR world. Be compassionate to everyone you meet — treat everyone with dignity. Do unto others and all that. Realize that the surface of things is so fragile, and that we are all so much more on the inside. We are all time and relative dimensions in space, and you cannot know all there is to know at a glance. Do not assume you know someone because you’ve spoken to them on the internet. Do not dismiss someone because they don’t like the same books/films/music as you.
Everyone you encounter is your world. Friends, family, co-workers, strangers, internet people. You have an opportunity, likely, every day, to be an asshole, or to be kind. Sometimes it means turning the other cheek and letting someone be an asshole to you.
I don’t know if this has made any sense. Surely it’s not going to win any awards for coherency, but in my defense, darlings, I have a sinus headache and I’m experiencing mild hallucinations from the medication.
I’m sorry, you eternal optimists; you cheerful idealists, with your unshakable faith in the triumph of the human spirit. There will always be war, famine, poverty, abuse, rape and murder. The heart of man is eternally wicked, and full of every sort of evil. You can’t change the entire world — but you can change your world for the better, and like a stone dropped in a pond (watch out for falling cliches) that change can cause a change in others, until the ripples keep moving out as you increase the size of your world.