From all sides, the media has been bombarding us with large and small, seemingly never-ending, incidents of violence. Terrorism, police brutality, random bombings, muggings, rapes, and acts of war – the list seems endless. Then come the responses. Let’s go bomb the perpetrators, shoot the cops, fortify ourselves in hideouts, give up our privacies and civil liberties, huddle in fear, vociferously judge each other, kick out innocents because they are “other” – the responses are hardly less violent. Mankind seems to be intent on labeling others less valuable, less human. What happens then, when the last human stands? Will he or she be any more valuable than the ones who fell?
It seems to me that what is missing is a sense of gratitude for life. That is rather broad, perhaps, so let’s simply call it a lack of appreciation for each other. If the knee jerk reaction is “How can I possibly appreciate ____________” (fill in the blank), then the observation hits home. In every person, however opprobrious he or she may appear, there is a grain of good. In every person, even those who appear as saints, there is a grain of evil. I use those terms loosely, because what is good to one may appear evil to another. But in everyone, there are both. We need to learn to focus on what can be appreciated.
No, we do not need to lie down and let people beat us up or destroy us. We have both the right and duty of self-defense. On the other hand, we need to question how it is self-defense to take the aggression and destruction forward to the other, to meet hate with hate and violence with violence, physical or verbal. In so doing, we perpetuate a world culture of fear and death, and it is destroying us; the fear is at the root of the destruction, not the other.
If we could each take a few moments daily to appreciate at least one quality in the human and non-human beings with whom we share life on this planet, and with the planet herself, who is ill and suffering, we will have made a huge step in healing ourselves and our world. Many traditions teach those who learn from them to pray for their enemies. Appreciation is a form of prayer. It is powerful.
In this holiday season, where we celebrate in various ways the return of light, it is appropriate to reflect on and practice what illuminates the dark, the dark of fear and hate that causes us to diminish the humanity of others and hence begin to lose our own. Whatever tradition is yours, please pray the prayer of appreciation.