When I was a little girl, my parents worked so I spent my summers with friends. I used to hang out with a family of three siblings. They often had their cousins and other friends come over. I was the quiet and watchful one. I often watched the dynamic of their bickering and disagreements. I remember coming over one day, only to find that the entire group had ganged up on one kid. They immediately asked me to join their side but I stood there and shrugged. They went on to belittle the little boy and ostracize him. I had seen this happen a lot on the playground. If the ostracized child was smart, he’d recruit his friends and start an all out battle. If not, he would just get bullied. I couldn't help noticing how easy it was to recruit kids to one side. Children, I found, wanted to belong to a group. It gave them something to be proud of and fight for. Yet, it seemed, I was always an outside observer. Even when coerced to join a side, I never felt like I was part of it. I always felt sorry for both sides and if it was just one kid being picked on, I always felt sorry for him and often defended him.
Already, I could see the writer being born in me. I had this uncanny aversion to be like everyone else and just be a part of a group. I chose to observe and I often I didn't like what I saw. Humanity, it seemed to me, had no hope. It was just the powerful or the manipulative choosing sides and doing what they could to put down the other. There were no anti bullying campaigns when I was growing up. We were taught that this was just the way of life. No one talked about it. It just was.
I saw that there was a difference between playground play, just fighting for fun or playing rugby or bull rush in the field and the true fight for power. It happened when one person insulted the other, often in an innocent way. But for some reason, the other person takes it bad and turns against that person. They get friends to back them up and form alliances. This is what malicious gossiping is all about. A fist need not be thrown. A person can be defeated by ruining their reputation; turning their friends against them and making them feel completely defenseless and alone.
The person who is ostracized may not have done anything intentional to receive this treatment. Maybe they simply had the wrong skin color, or had a different view point of religion. Either way, I see it happening everywhere. I see it happening on the internet. Groups are formed by people of like minds but if someone sees things a bit differently, they are ostracized and told to leave. They say the internet is supposed to bring the world together but I have only see more groups being formed, more communities of like minded people keeping those who have other beliefs out. And of course I see it happening in wars, in riots, in protests, in fights, gangs and all forms of violence. To this very day, I still see it happening and it still bothers me. As we speak, there are people getting blown up, prisoners of war being tortured, fights and riots breaking out, etc. The world has never known peace. There has always been war, and people like me who sadly observe these things have always existed. Writers, philosophers and peace activists have been around since the dawn of history. Many exist today, spreading the word through peaceful protest, religion, charity or social reform, yet there has been no end to war.
Some say religion is to blame. They say that when we form strong beliefs about God or right or wrong, it makes us feel morally obligated to fight those who don’t believe the same things. So we form sides and wars break out. I question this assertion but I must say that I have seen issues with beliefs. Almost all religions have a taboo, something that you are not supposed to touch or talk about. Often, what is sacred in one religion is taboo in another. You have one religion that sees pork as a delicacy and another who is against touching or eating it. They both see each other as gross, backwards or insane. While civil rights is seen as status quo in the laws that govern nations such as the United States, other countries are still mired in segregation. There are certain classes of people you aren’t even supposed to touch. How can the world get along when we all have such differing viewpoints?
Still, I don’t think religion is the problem. I have seen atheists also form sides for one reason or another. I’ve known people who don’t believe in God who have strong agendas to get believers to stop believing and they have also formed their own groups of people who feel the same way. China is an atheist government who does not believe in religion, yet they are suppressing the Tibetans. So the religious and anti religious will continue to bicker. It seems to me, that it is still something deeply rooted in human nature. Beliefs go beyond religion. Sometimes, it’s just how we were raised that form our beliefs and when we grow up and find out that other people were raised differently, we’re total shock. I remember my college roommates fighting over whether to plug up the sink or not. They just couldn't believe that the other person would think differently. Again, I just sat there wondering why people fight over things so petty.
In my observations, I have found that having an agenda makes people proud. It gives us meaning to push some kind of idea on to another person. People form identities around what they do and who they are. Pride makes them feel powerful. If they study yoga, they consider themselves yogis. If they study cross fit, they are hard core athletes. If they have an advanced education, they are intellectuals. If they are religious, they are people of God. If they are creative, they are artists. People love to be something and advertising campaigns feed on this psychological need by creating cult followings out of product names. Of course, those of us on the outside shrug our shoulders and just say, “They drank the coolaid.” Maybe pride is the real culprit.
In truth, cults are everywhere and they can be harmless or harmful. Most religions say that humans are special, that we are the greatest creation of God. Yet, many religions also preach humility. Buddhism even tells us to renounce all identity. Yet, if we do that, we could hardly call ourselves Buddhists. Of course this brings on more taboos. In some religions you are not even allowed to mention the name of God or even try to fathom what he/she wants. In others, you should pray to his/her very name. No wonder we bicker.
Some religious people are very peaceful. They say that god just wants love and peace. Yet, many religious texts such as The Bible, The Koran and the Bhagvad Gita show that war has always existed and that God often creates war for his own reasons. We are not to try to understand what those reasons are. It disturbs us, yes, but we have to trust that this is God’s way. There is a part in the Bhagvad Gita that says, “If the slayer thinks he slays or the slain thinks he is slain, he knows not the truth.” In this text and in many others, God goes on to say that war and destruction is part of the ongoing cycle of life and worlds, countries, communities and lives will be destroyed. But in a way, we are already dead because everyone dies. Some of the greatest ancient religious texts are epics of war. In many religions, one who fights and dies in the name of God is doing him the greatest service. The polytheistic Gods of old often fought wars among themselves for power. How could we expect humans to be any better?
This is what I’ve gleaned from reading so many religious texts, in my mission to understand my confusion about war and violence. The only thing I’ve learned from God is that we can only change what we can and accept what we can’t. In a passage in the Bible, Jesus was asked when the kingdom of heaven will come. He answered that we shouldn’t think of it as a time and place. He said that the kingdom of heaven is within us. The Buddha also said that the heaven we seek is in our own hearts.
Science itself shows us that worlds are created and destroyed in the span of millenniums. Even the sun will die and so will we. When we look at it all from this scope, does it matter that we are constantly loving each other yet destroying each other at the same time? Is this just the way of nature?
I won’t be the first to say that war, hatred, and violence disturbs me and makes me question the universe in the deepest of ways. I can’t say I have any answers for the questions I have for God, science or philosophy. All I can say is that as an artist, I can choose to accept life for what it is. I can choose to draw, write and record it. I can revel in its beauty and see depth in its ugliness. In a way, art is a type of religion where we can be sad, happy, angry and distraught but still have some kind of out. We are all just peons, surviving a life of impermanence. I may not see world peace in my lifetime but I can choose to find peace within myself.