Our enemies also have pain

From The Intelligent Optimist
Winter 2017

All religions advocate the Golden Rule—Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. Only when learn to implement this rule—24 hours a day—there can be a viable world.

By Karen Armstrong

All the great religious traditions of our world came into being at about the same time in India, the Middle East and in Greece. Independently, they all came to the conclusion that the bedrock of spirituality and ethics was—what we now call—the Golden Rule: Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. This belief lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. It is the test of true spirituality. Yet, often when religious leaders come together, they condemn something like discrimination, but they don’t talk about this one thing that the world needs the most at the moment: We need learn to implement the Golden Rule. Without that the world is simply not going to be viable.

Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. One of the first people to propose the Golden Rule was Confucius in the fifth century BC and he said, “you do this all day and every day,” not just when you feel like it. It has to become an absolute, habitual practice. In England we have a habit when we have done something nice for somebody, we often say, “well, that’s my good deed for the day,” as though we can then return for the next 23 hours to our usual habits of greed and unkindness and bitterness. No, all day and every day and it requires you to transcend the self.

And you cannot confine this benevolence to your own particular group. You had to have—what another Chinese sage called—concern for everybody. Love the stranger, the foreigner, says Leviticus. If a foreigner lives with you in your land, do not molest him, you must treat him as one of your people and love him as yourself, for once you were strangers in Egypt. That’s the logic of the Golden Rule. Remember the times when you were a despised, oppressed, marginalized minority in a foreign land and make sure that nobody in your vicinity, in your own country has to suffer such pain in your society.

The Golden Rule is a tough call. That’s why we need to decode the word “love”. In the English language love has got really debased. I “love” ice-cream, didn’t you “love” that movie… It suggests a welling of emotion. However, in the ancient Near East at the time Leviticus was written, love in Hebrew was a political term; a political, legal term used in treaties. Two kings, who may have been enemies previously, would promise to love each other and that didn’t mean that they would fall into one another’s arms and become best friends, best buddies. Love meant loyalty, it meant that they would look out for one another’s best interests, even if this went against their own short-term goals. That they would come to the aid of their new ally when he was in trouble and they would do all they could to give him practical help and support. Now, this is the kind of love we need to give our so called enemies today if we want a peaceful world.

Jesus said “love your enemies” and his fate reminds us that compassion can be dangerous. Jesus was a political figure and he was killed by the Roman authorities for asking for a fairer, more compassionate world. In the 20th century we have seen other people—Dr. King, Gandhi—asking the same and paying the ultimate price. So choosing compassing is taking on a great risk and a great challenge. It won’t be easy. It’s not about simply being nice. It’s hard work. Somehow we have to find a way to grapple with the political realities of our time and make compassion to feel with the other, to treat others, all others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, a real reality.

Confucius spent his whole life tramping from one court to another trying to make the rulers of China observe the Golden Rule because he said, “if we don’t behave to each other as we would wish the others to behave to us, we will destroy one another”. That has never been more true than it is today. The Prophet Mohammad said “not one of you can be a believer if he can sleep when he knows that someone is hungry”. And we know, because we are inundated with images of suffering and pain more than any previous generation. We know that not only are people hungry, they are on flimsy boats, little rafts, literally dying to get into Europe.

They are enduring hunger, disease and massive inequity on a daily basis. Sometimes when we look at these images we get compassion fatigue. We think: “I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to see it.” But we should see it as a spiritual opportunity. We should perhaps focus on one of those images, perhaps a child that’s dying in his mother’s arms in a refugee camp. We should let that image trouble us. Because that trouble, that discomfort, that is like the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl. It’s that discomfort that creates true compassion. It allows us to realize—not to be miserable all the time, that’s not the point, that won’t help anybody—what can we practically do to assuage this.

We live in an interconnected world. We are electronically linked together. People everywhere in the world can look into their phones and see the way we live. No wonder they want to come to our privileged world. Yet, the more global we become the more tribal people want to feel. The more global our vision becomes, the more some people want to retreat to denominational ghettos. That’s why you have fundamentalism where people feel threatened by this likeness and they hold on to this luggage of individuality. But it’s not a rational assessment of our current reality which is interdependence.

The suffering we are seeing in other parts of the world has already redounded on us. I’m in no way condoning terrorist acts but these have come from decades of neglect and selfishness and pursuit of the wrong kind of policies, from supporting rulers in regimes in various countries of the world that would give their people none of the liberties that we enjoy. That’s not the Golden Rule. Don’t impose on others, what you yourself do not desire.

I have seen world leaders marching together for freedom in response to atrocious terrorist attacks. It also makes me feel sick because many of these leaders support regimes like Saudi Arabia in Muslim majority countries which allow their people no freedom of expression at all. And we only seem to mourn our own people. When terrorist kill people in other countries, there are tiny mentions in the press and when there’s a terrorist attack Paris there’s a media bonanza. This is noticed in the Muslim world. We should not forget that 90 percent of the people who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were civilians who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We rightly mourn our dead servicemen who come back from these terrible places and have paid the ultimate price, but we must also remember these others too. Otherwise it looks as though we think that some lives are more valuable than others. That is not a good feeling to spread around the world. We are not seeing that compassion, that fellow feeling, that your pain is my pain.

Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the long twenty-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. In the course of this terrible warfare the star warrior of the Greeks Achilles loses his beloved friend Patrocles, who is killed in a skirmish by Hector, one of the Princes of Troy. Achilles goes mad with guilt, grief and rage. And he challenges Hector to a duel, the two of them will slug it out and they do so, the royal family, Hector’s family watch from the Trojan walls and nobody can beat Achilles and he kills Hector and then he mutilates the body. He is determined to take revenge, he ties Hector’s body on to his war chariot and rides it, drags it round and round and round Patrocles’ grave and then he does a terrible thing. He refuses to give the body back to the family for burial and in Greek terms that meant that Hector’s soul would never know rest but it would be restless and distressed for all eternity.

Then, one night, Hector’s father, old King Priam of Troy comes in disguise into the enemy camp. He finds his way to Achilles tent and throws off his disguise and, of course, everybody is utterly shocked. Here is the king, the chief enemy in enemy territory and the old man approaches Achilles. Achilles who has killed not just Hector but many of his sons and he falls at Achilles, the old man falls at Achilles feet, hugs, embraces his knees and weeps. And Achilles looks at the old man and he remembers his father and he begins to weep and Homer says the two men wept together, Priam for Hector and for all his sons that as he called him at this point, man-slaughtering Achilles had slain and Achilles now for Patrocles, now for his father. And then they stopped weeping. The Greeks believed that weeping together created a bond between men because it showed the pain that lies at the heart of all our experience, all of us, whatever side we are on and Achilles, the two men, these great arch enemies look into each other’s eyes and Homer tells us that each saw the other as divine, as a God.

And then Achilles goes and he brings Hector’s body and lays it very tenderly in the father’s arms, Priam’s arms because the weight might be too much for him to bear and that I think should be an emblem of our time. Two wounded men, arch enemies, both of whom have damaged each other irreparably and two people’s that have damaged each other irreparably but they have felt that bond of compassion that unites them and it is that which makes us truly godlike, truly divine when we recognize that our so called enemies also have pain.   

Karen Armstrong is a former Nun and now Religous Thinker and Writer on Islam Buddhism and the Bible. Excerpted from a talk at the Festival of Faiths, May 17-21 2016, Louisville, Kentucky. More information: www.festivaloffaiths.org

Solution News Source

Our enemies also have pain

From The Intelligent Optimist
Winter 2017

All religions advocate the Golden Rule—Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. Only when learn to implement this rule—24 hours a day—there can be a viable world.

By Karen Armstrong

All the great religious traditions of our world came into being at about the same time in India, the Middle East and in Greece. Independently, they all came to the conclusion that the bedrock of spirituality and ethics was—what we now call—the Golden Rule: Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. This belief lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. It is the test of true spirituality. Yet, often when religious leaders come together, they condemn something like discrimination, but they don’t talk about this one thing that the world needs the most at the moment: We need learn to implement the Golden Rule. Without that the world is simply not going to be viable.

Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. One of the first people to propose the Golden Rule was Confucius in the fifth century BC and he said, “you do this all day and every day,” not just when you feel like it. It has to become an absolute, habitual practice. In England we have a habit when we have done something nice for somebody, we often say, “well, that’s my good deed for the day,” as though we can then return for the next 23 hours to our usual habits of greed and unkindness and bitterness. No, all day and every day and it requires you to transcend the self.

And you cannot confine this benevolence to your own particular group. You had to have—what another Chinese sage called—concern for everybody. Love the stranger, the foreigner, says Leviticus. If a foreigner lives with you in your land, do not molest him, you must treat him as one of your people and love him as yourself, for once you were strangers in Egypt. That’s the logic of the Golden Rule. Remember the times when you were a despised, oppressed, marginalized minority in a foreign land and make sure that nobody in your vicinity, in your own country has to suffer such pain in your society.

The Golden Rule is a tough call. That’s why we need to decode the word “love”. In the English language love has got really debased. I “love” ice-cream, didn’t you “love” that movie… It suggests a welling of emotion. However, in the ancient Near East at the time Leviticus was written, love in Hebrew was a political term; a political, legal term used in treaties. Two kings, who may have been enemies previously, would promise to love each other and that didn’t mean that they would fall into one another’s arms and become best friends, best buddies. Love meant loyalty, it meant that they would look out for one another’s best interests, even if this went against their own short-term goals. That they would come to the aid of their new ally when he was in trouble and they would do all they could to give him practical help and support. Now, this is the kind of love we need to give our so called enemies today if we want a peaceful world.

Jesus said “love your enemies” and his fate reminds us that compassion can be dangerous. Jesus was a political figure and he was killed by the Roman authorities for asking for a fairer, more compassionate world. In the 20th century we have seen other people—Dr. King, Gandhi—asking the same and paying the ultimate price. So choosing compassing is taking on a great risk and a great challenge. It won’t be easy. It’s not about simply being nice. It’s hard work. Somehow we have to find a way to grapple with the political realities of our time and make compassion to feel with the other, to treat others, all others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, a real reality.

Confucius spent his whole life tramping from one court to another trying to make the rulers of China observe the Golden Rule because he said, “if we don’t behave to each other as we would wish the others to behave to us, we will destroy one another”. That has never been more true than it is today. The Prophet Mohammad said “not one of you can be a believer if he can sleep when he knows that someone is hungry”. And we know, because we are inundated with images of suffering and pain more than any previous generation. We know that not only are people hungry, they are on flimsy boats, little rafts, literally dying to get into Europe.

They are enduring hunger, disease and massive inequity on a daily basis. Sometimes when we look at these images we get compassion fatigue. We think: “I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to see it.” But we should see it as a spiritual opportunity. We should perhaps focus on one of those images, perhaps a child that’s dying in his mother’s arms in a refugee camp. We should let that image trouble us. Because that trouble, that discomfort, that is like the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl. It’s that discomfort that creates true compassion. It allows us to realize—not to be miserable all the time, that’s not the point, that won’t help anybody—what can we practically do to assuage this.

We live in an interconnected world. We are electronically linked together. People everywhere in the world can look into their phones and see the way we live. No wonder they want to come to our privileged world. Yet, the more global we become the more tribal people want to feel. The more global our vision becomes, the more some people want to retreat to denominational ghettos. That’s why you have fundamentalism where people feel threatened by this likeness and they hold on to this luggage of individuality. But it’s not a rational assessment of our current reality which is interdependence.

The suffering we are seeing in other parts of the world has already redounded on us. I’m in no way condoning terrorist acts but these have come from decades of neglect and selfishness and pursuit of the wrong kind of policies, from supporting rulers in regimes in various countries of the world that would give their people none of the liberties that we enjoy. That’s not the Golden Rule. Don’t impose on others, what you yourself do not desire.

I have seen world leaders marching together for freedom in response to atrocious terrorist attacks. It also makes me feel sick because many of these leaders support regimes like Saudi Arabia in Muslim majority countries which allow their people no freedom of expression at all. And we only seem to mourn our own people. When terrorist kill people in other countries, there are tiny mentions in the press and when there’s a terrorist attack Paris there’s a media bonanza. This is noticed in the Muslim world. We should not forget that 90 percent of the people who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were civilians who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We rightly mourn our dead servicemen who come back from these terrible places and have paid the ultimate price, but we must also remember these others too. Otherwise it looks as though we think that some lives are more valuable than others. That is not a good feeling to spread around the world. We are not seeing that compassion, that fellow feeling, that your pain is my pain.

Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the long twenty-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. In the course of this terrible warfare the star warrior of the Greeks Achilles loses his beloved friend Patrocles, who is killed in a skirmish by Hector, one of the Princes of Troy. Achilles goes mad with guilt, grief and rage. And he challenges Hector to a duel, the two of them will slug it out and they do so, the royal family, Hector’s family watch from the Trojan walls and nobody can beat Achilles and he kills Hector and then he mutilates the body. He is determined to take revenge, he ties Hector’s body on to his war chariot and rides it, drags it round and round and round Patrocles’ grave and then he does a terrible thing. He refuses to give the body back to the family for burial and in Greek terms that meant that Hector’s soul would never know rest but it would be restless and distressed for all eternity.

Then, one night, Hector’s father, old King Priam of Troy comes in disguise into the enemy camp. He finds his way to Achilles tent and throws off his disguise and, of course, everybody is utterly shocked. Here is the king, the chief enemy in enemy territory and the old man approaches Achilles. Achilles who has killed not just Hector but many of his sons and he falls at Achilles, the old man falls at Achilles feet, hugs, embraces his knees and weeps. And Achilles looks at the old man and he remembers his father and he begins to weep and Homer says the two men wept together, Priam for Hector and for all his sons that as he called him at this point, man-slaughtering Achilles had slain and Achilles now for Patrocles, now for his father. And then they stopped weeping. The Greeks believed that weeping together created a bond between men because it showed the pain that lies at the heart of all our experience, all of us, whatever side we are on and Achilles, the two men, these great arch enemies look into each other’s eyes and Homer tells us that each saw the other as divine, as a God.

And then Achilles goes and he brings Hector’s body and lays it very tenderly in the father’s arms, Priam’s arms because the weight might be too much for him to bear and that I think should be an emblem of our time. Two wounded men, arch enemies, both of whom have damaged each other irreparably and two people’s that have damaged each other irreparably but they have felt that bond of compassion that unites them and it is that which makes us truly godlike, truly divine when we recognize that our so called enemies also have pain.   

Karen Armstrong is a former Nun and now Religous Thinker and Writer on Islam Buddhism and the Bible. Excerpted from a talk at the Festival of Faiths, May 17-21 2016, Louisville, Kentucky. More information: www.festivaloffaiths.org

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