Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Congo Rapes and Kindergarten Kisses: A Pacifist's Battle


Dr. Andrew Weil is my favorite health advisor, but I disagree with him on one point. He recommends "news fasting" as a way of achieving optimum mental health. But I can't help myself. My husband calls my interest in the horrible aspects of humanity my "Rwandan Genocide Videos". Once, when were were still dating, he came home from work and found me on our couch sobbing. He ran over to me, threw his arms around my shoulders and asked, "What's wrong?"

I choked out between snot and tears streaming down my face, like a five year old whose toy had been snatched away from her, "Why do people have to be so mean to each other?"

He looked at the TV, back at me and asked, "Another Rwandan Genocide Video?"

I nodded cautiously like a child caught doing something she's been told not to do. Life's atrocities are like a car wreck I can't seem to look away from. Like this article about the mass rapes happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I don't believe in sin, so it's especially difficult for me to understand why human beings can be so brutal. What makes a person rape an infant girl? What makes a person cut up a husband's genitals and force his wife to eat them in front of her children? Savagery? Sin? Or something else? I don't know.

Sometimes I give up trying to figure it out and just let it go, which I think is what Dr. Weil is suggesting. But when I news-fast, it's because I've become overwhelmed with grief, not because I've figured out a way to get past it. I get too depressed thinking about such apparent evil.

My depression stems from the disconnect I experience since I don't believe the "Devil made me do it." Which makes the responsibility fall on human beings, from something wrong internally, not from any external supernatural force. But why? What makes some people on this planet - like Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Mister Rogers, like countless unnamed healers and nurturers throughout history - what makes these people so special that they can somehow overcome what often seems like our species' violent nature to live so peaceably and wage love instead of war on humanity? What makes other people on this planet rape infants and mutilate each other? I just don't get it.

When I am able to pay attention to news reports of such atrocities, I want to do something. I want to hop in my car, drive through my comfortable suburban neighborhood to the airport and take the next flight to whatever region is in conflict so I can do something to try to stop the insanity. But I have a little girl to walk to school, a husband who needs me to make his lunch, dogs and a cat that need me to entice them off the couch to come into the kitchen and eat their kibble. I have a mortgage. I have laundry. I have dishes and floors and toilets to clean. I don't have time to save the world.

So what can I do? I can news-fast for the sake of my own mental health. But in the long run, that doesn't work. When I accidentally catch a glimpse of headlines alerting me to the world's brutality, it snaps me out of my comfy suburban daze and I feel even worse for having done nothing to help. It seems counter-productive, but I need to worry about the world for the sake of my own mental wellness. Ignoring others' suffering for the sake of my own sanity leads me headlong into the depths of depression far worse than paying attention and trying to do something about it. If I were a Christian I'd say "Fuck you, Devil! Jesus is in charge here!" I wish I were a Christian. It would be so much easier to give it up to God than to take responsibility to improve the world myself.

Last night I was having trouble sleeping after having read this particularly difficult news report. Forty-eight women per HOUR are raped in the Congo. How can I go to bed and fall asleep in the comfort of my own safe home when my fellow sisters across the globe are suffering so? What can I do? Donating money, volunteering my time, any measly thing I could think of seems so futile.

I've been blessed with two particular talents: parenting and writing. How can I incorporate my talents into ways to help this suffering planet?

This. Right here. What I'm doing now. I can raise my daughter and I can write about it. I can teach my daughter that it is wrong to view other human beings as either allies or enemies, which leads to never-ending battles when conflict arises. It is wrong to listen to people in authority tell you it is ok to hurt others because they are on the wrong side. It is wrong to partake of the spoils of war or engage in any action that steals from other people - whether you're robbing them of their goods or their souls. It is wrong to accept that violence is a part of human nature that we can never overcome. We must be strong in our belief that despite hard evidence to the contrary, human beings are basically good.

Damn, it's hard. I know the reason I'm able to flirt with pacifism is because I was born in the wealthiest nation on earth to a middle class, white privileged, educated family. I was born in 1970 in the Western world, during a time when my older sisters were fighting for equal rights for me and my peers. I come from a safe community, with a full belly and little outside obstacles to overcome. My family was far from perfect and I battled my fair share of psychological warfare internally. But I never had to decide between hiding but starving and getting raped while foraging for food. So it's easy for me, in my safe, peaceful world, to think the best of my species and believe we can evolve into kind souls. I suspect if I grew up in the Congo I'd have a different opinion of humanity's ability to spiritually evolve.

But it's what I've got, my optimism. My belief that we can all be Jesuses, Gandhis, Dalai Lamas, Maya Angelous, and Mr. Rogerses if given half a chance. So I wake up each day and raise my daughter to forgive her peers and show them how strong she can be by not participating in such nonsense as "an eye for an eye."

Yesterday Katie informed me that one of the boys in her kindergarten class doesn't like her. I was shocked. "How could anyone not like you? You're such a likeable girl?"

"He doesn't like me, Mama."

"Did he tell you he doesn't like you?" I wanted proof. I felt a rage rising within me. What is his problem? I wanted to hunt down this little punk ass five year old and beat the shit out of him for not liking my girl.

"No, but he says he doesn't want me to hug and kiss him."

I felt my internal rage dissipate and I smiled. As usual, this conflict arose from a simple misunderstanding. "Sweetie, just because he doesn't want you to hug and kiss him doesn't mean he doesn't like you. Some people are just not huggy and kissy people. He just needs his personal space and it probably embarrasses him to have some girl try to kiss in at school. Lots of kids, boys especially, don't like kisses and hugs from girls until they're much older."

"But Aiden likes to hug and kiss me." Katie reminded me. Aiden is her boyfriend, a fellow fan of PDAs at school. When I'm the reading helper for their class on Fridays, I catch glimpses of them holding hands and sitting next to each other during all of the group activities.

"Right. But not everyone is like Aiden and you. Some people need more time to warm up to others before they want to show them how much they love them. Some people don't feel like school is the right place to hug and kiss other people. They're just there to learn and not to spread the love. You have to respect their feelings, Sweetie."

It seems like such a small thing, teaching our children empathy. But the significance of it could change the world. You can't commit acts of violence toward others if you consider things from their point of view. The only thing that can conquer this violent world is the spread of empathy. And it starts right here at home, in school, with our children. Right now.

It's never ending, this pacifist's battle. Yet it's the only one worth fighting.