Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Day That Changed Everything

I saw a lot of people posting their thoughts and memories of 9/11 today, and I think this quote from Dr. King sums up my feelings fairly well. The Buddha shared a similar thought some 2,500 years ago: 

In this world, hatred has never been defeated by hatred.
Only love can overcome hatred.
This is an ancient and eternal law.

I remember where I was when I heard about the attacks, as most of us do. I first felt confusion, then fear, and then anger. I wanted revenge. I remember pulling out our flag that evening and hanging it from our balcony at our apartment back in Michigan. My tribal mind took over (and make no mistake; all nations are essentially tribes, when you get down to it). We all felt a need to rally behind each other.

But as my anger cooled, I looked on in dismay as our government seemed to want to fix the problem in ways that made no sense at best, and were an affront to our own liberties at worst. And that far too many people, still driven by fear or vengeance, found no fault with it all.

At that time, I probably would have considered myself a pacifist Republican. I was raised in a conservative Catholic home, and the Catholic "consistent life ethic" always resonated with me. Lots of Catholics I knew were pro-life on abortion, but how many opposed capital punishment? How many followed Pope John Paul II in condemning the Iraq war? Not many that I knew.

So I felt myself more and more at odds with our policies, with the popular political climate, and with the "solutions" from both political parties. While most people were focused on revenge, I wanted to know why the attack happened in the first place. I read the Koran. I immersed myself in the history of American foreign policy and Middle East politics. I came out the other side with a new political perspective -- one that was mostly libertarian, and still very strongly pacifistic, but one that also more clearly grasped the cause and effect in what had happened to us.

Today, I think things have gotten worse, not better -- economically, politically, and attitudinally. And as I continue to learn and grow, I again find my worldview beginning to shift in subtle ways. I sat down this evening and read 9/11, a collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky -- and I found myself nodding in agreement with most of what I read. That would never have happened five years ago, or even one year ago. I've always had a soft spot for Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, but Chomsky and Howard Zinn are beginning to join them in a particular sphere of influence that I'd never entertained in any serious depth before. Now it's starting to click.

My point? Never stop questioning, and never stop learning. It's easy to get caught up in the narratives we build for ourselves, aided by the media, popular culture, and our leaders. (One word of advice? Turn off your TV, and leave it off. It's one of the best things you'll ever do for yourself.) I think that, to a large extent, we're biologically wired to want to look to our leaders to fix things for us. We're group animals. That's why, as the nefarious Nazi propagandist Herman Goering pointed out during the Nuremberg trials, it's easy to rally the people to war. It takes courage to stand up against popular opinion, as we don't want to be banished from the pack.

But it's the rebels, the non-conformists, the ones unafraid to stand up and announce that the emperor has no clothes, who are the catalysts for change. As that great American philosopher Frank Zappa is claimed to have once said, "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."

One reason I've always identified with the hippie movement is that the hippies weren't afraid to call out the establishment, no matter the political party in power. And they were just crazy enough to think that a world built on love, peace, and justice would be better than the one we have. Consider the words of some of the movement's patron saints:

John Lennon: "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

(Attributed to) Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

Again, John Lennon:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Peace and love are revolutionary ideas in a world gone mad with war and hate. Follow your heart, not the crowd, and I believe it's a revolution that can be won.

Here's to a better tomorrow.

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