Why you shouldn’t meet hate with hate

Mind­ful­ness Man

Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY - Martin Ste­pek is founder of Ten­forZen, of­fer­ing guided mind­ful­ness ses­sions in handy, 10 min­utes a day, au­dio cour­ses. Author of four books, he is fre­quently asked to speak on mind­ful­ness, his re­mark­able fam­ily her­itage, and on busi­ness. See ten­forzen.co.

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.

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