Why you shouldn’t meet hate with hate
EXACTLY 76 years ago, Britain and France declared war on Germany as a result of the invasion of Poland two days earlier. The anniversary struck me as very relevant today, with neo-Nazis marching in the United States. The British prime minister Neville Chamberlain is now forever known as the classic appeaser, the one who hesitated to declare war a year and more earlier when Hitler’s forces were less powerful.
It’s so easy in hindsight. If we declare war and it turns out to be a disaster we shout that our leaders were warmongers, triggerhappy or worse. Ask Tony Blair. If we don’t react with military power and an aggressor then oppresses their own people or that of a neighbouring power, our political leaders are accused of standing by and allowing war crimes to be committed unchallenged.
So, how should a person respond to the reality of neo-Nazis marching in America? Many people on Facebook, Twitter and the like respond in the words on many posters in the USA, with “Punch a Nazi” or similar unequivocal terms. In other words treat violence with violence. Does that merely inflame an already volatile situation? Does it allow people like President Trump to say there is violence “on many sides” and thus let off the hook behaviour that is unacceptable?
There are many armchair volunteers ready to conduct warfare online. Taunts and insults, one-sided evidence, simplistic statements.
The truth is that there is no way of knowing how to most effectively combat any perceived danger. He who hesitates is lost, says the wise old phrase. Look before you leap, counters another. History is great as a teacher in theory, much less so in real situations. Sometimes ignoring fascists makes the problem dwindle and the crisis disappears for a time. Other times it emboldens them to become more aggressive.
Mindfulness teaches us to notice as much as possible. From noticing we not only gain insights that life usually isn’t as simple as some suggest, we also learn to question our own assumptions, biases and automatic reactions.
From that position of greater clarity and understanding we can make a decision about whether to become active in a cause, and, if so, what sort of action we will take.
Mindfulness also teaches us to hesitate before jumping to responses. This is especially helpful on social media where knee-jerk reactions, rants, aggressive or unpleasant responses are so common. There is also a trend common among men, and to a lesser extent women, to think that a wittier form of despising someone in a message is more acceptable than a blatant one. We are awash with machismo Scots on political matters.
What effect do most of these messages and counter-messages have? Hardening of attitudes on both sides most likely.
Mindfulness asks of us to be ultra-aware of how we use our time. Social media can be a remarkably good use of time but it is also easy to waste bucket-loads of moments pursuing pointless temptations from celebrity gossip to a million opinions on whether Donald Trump is or is not likely to be indicted. Life goes by and we’re not there. We miss out on life’s wonderful diverse beauty because we are not in charge of our own wayward, flighty minds.
There are many people I know engaged in political activism who are more angry than effective, and more “against” than they are “for”. Their minds are unhappy and unreceptive to life’s joys but they cannot see this because they are so conditioned to think only in terms of what is wrong in society and the world.
The Buddha is reported in the classic Buddhist text The Dhammapada to have said: “Hatred never ends through hatred. By non-hatred alone does it end.” He then added: “This is an ancient truth.” If the Buddha said it, this places his quote at around the fifth century before Christ, and even this long ago he is stated as saying that “hatred never ends through hatred” was already an ancient truth. Mindfulness helps us regain that truth. Whether violence or non-violence is required to achieve or defend the kind of society we believe in, it will not be achieved by blinkered hatred and unthinking reactivity.