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Wednesday, December 2, 2015


In the movie Serenity, one of my favorites, River Tam as a child says: “We meddle. People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think. Don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome.”

I rarely talk or blog on politics. I’m making an exception, one that might continue. 
Why do people condemn anyone who seeks to understand “why” terrorism happens or empathizes with the plight of another culture or even tries to point out our (not an individual but us, all of us) part in the problem, our responsibility. After all: WE MEDDLE. America and Great Britain and other European countries have long meddled in the Middle East, we’ve repeatedly stuck our noses into a tribal culture about which we comprehend so very little. And though we do need to defend ourselves against terrorism, we also need to step up and take responsibility for our part in the current mess. We meddle. Maybe for good reasons, or what we erringly believe are “good,” but often purely out of fear disguised as morality or righteousness. We try to impose, even force, our ideals, society, and/or morals upon another culture. 
With consumerism having gobbled up most of the world, is it any wonder that some cultures may not want it and/or may have a hard time keeping up and become angry? Maybe they haven’t had time to assimilate or grow naturally into the market at a pace that is acceptable to their religion and society. How many times has colonial arrogance viewed the other as savage?
Most people, including me, have only a gossamer grasp of history yet in our conversations we are eager to blame others from this limited perspective of what it means to be human in various cultures and we try to dictate how long it takes for change to happen. Even many history teachers or scholars focus upon a narrow time period—just as other professionals like doctors become specialists—rarely venturing into a broad spectrum of history. In our time, the vastness of global history is overwhelming, and yet we must make an effort to see beyond our personal narrow vision when we speak and act but, most of all, in the first framing, when we listen. 
Reading books is an excellent form of deep listening. Not just reading blips in articles or newspapers, which are far too limited or skewed to allow a substantive perspective on an issue, but reading books from various “sides” and immersing oneself in a subject dear to one’s heart but from an opposite shore. Usually we choose to read confirmatory books that reinforce our already existing beliefs and that result in a greater polarization. We feel good when we read that others agree with us, it confirms our sense of place in the world and affirms our sense of identity and belonging that feed our instincts for survival. But this kind of one-sided reading also can contribute to rigidity and radical judgmentalism: they’re wrong and I’m right. And, yes, I admit that it can sometimes be uncomfortable reading — and thus “listening” — to the “other side.” But if there is even the slightest chance that we can live together peacefully, respectfully, with dignity, then I’m willing to be uncomfortable once in a while.
Now, of course, someone might say that all of this psychology, philosophy, sociology, and trying to understand the other is moot because if we don’t control/kill “them,” then they will do it to us. All I can say to that is again…look at history. War leads to more war. Every great nation falls. We no longer have the option of “discovering” another continent upon which to expand and build a new nation. Our planet is finite and unless we find a way to all get along, it’s very possible that humans will become extinct. I don’t want that for my nieces and nephew; I want them to enjoy a beautiful, abundant, and safe world. 
Humans have the ability to change. We can choose to do so.
So the question remains: How do we help without meddling, without forcing ourselves?

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