Immediately after 9-11, much of the world extended unconditional support to the United States. That support began to wane around the time President Bush indicated the path his administration would take in response to the attack when he spoke at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001.
Toward Osama bin Laden, President Bush demanded vengeance: "I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, "Wanted: Dead or Alive.'" Having chosen the punitive model of justice, he then launched us into war and peace is still not in sight.
It is time to realize that attack after attack is not our best defense. When we lash out to attack those who attack us, we are caught in the trap of dual morality, and our enemies are, as well. First one side declares, "My killing is moral; yours is not." Then the other side makes the same declaration, feeling self righteously moral in answering harm with more harm.
How does each side claim the moral ground? By projecting responsibility and blame for their harm upon those whom they are harming. "They make us do it," is the logic behind the insanity. The harm becomes endless.
What would one standard of morality look like? It says that harm by anyone is unacceptable. We do not condone killing by anyone. How do we escape the trap of dual morality and begin to move toward one standard of morality (monomorality)? The path to peace begins only when one who has been offended does not respond in kind.
For example, if the dispute is minor, perhaps a meeting is requested at which the other side is asks if they caused the harm that was experienced. Confronted with a question, instead of judgment, they might admit that they did cause the harm, and explain what they were thinking when they did so (the perceived wrong or circumstance that made them feel justified in causing the harm).
This communication might uncover a misunderstanding that the side that was harmed had been unaware of. The misunderstanding may then be cleared up, a promise is made to cause no further harm, and that agreement is kept. The harm comes to an end. This is not an unusual scenario when a unitive justice approach is taken.
What about big disagreements, like a World War? My article on Sept. 10,9 Years After 9-11, described the consequences of the Allied nations seeking retribution and revenge against Germany at the end of World War I. They chose punitive justice and it led to another world war, the Holocaust, and further destruction.
Friday's article also described the very different results when retribution was not imposed on Germany at the end of World War II, despite the fact its wrongs were even more atrocious than in the earlier war. Instead, the U.S. extended the Marshall Plan to war torn Europe, including West Germany. We also helped rebuild Japan. The result? Democracy flourished in Germany and Japan and both became strong allies.
In view of such evidence, this puzzles me. Many centuries ago, Jesus commanded his followers to give up the eye-for-an-eye reaction to conflict, which is the proportional revenge sanctioned by dual morality. He told them instead to love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, and to turn the other cheek. Why didn't President Bush follow that teaching, instead of attacking, after 9-11?
While the teaching may be expressed in different words, every major religion teaches its followers to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This "Golden Rule" is a universal principle taught by all Spiritual Masters. Why is it so often violated?
Perhaps it is because these teaching lead to what, for some people, is a difficult question. To apply the Golden Rule, do we have to give up self-defense when we need it to protect ourselves from harm? This question usually assumes that self-defense entails violence answering violence, but is this necessarily the case? It wasn't at the end of World War II.
And think of how impervious the British Empire in India appeared to be before Mahatma Gandhi and his devotees used nonviolent civil disobedience instead of violence or revenge. Gandhi won without firing a single shot because, when the British used their weapons against defenseless Indians, they lacked moral legitimacy; it hurt the British more than it hurt their adversaries. When confronted with determined nonviolent civil disobedience that was not going to stop, the British were left with no option but to return India to its native people.
The U.S. Civil Rights Movement is another example. Inspired by Gandhi's successful movement and led by Martin Luther King Jr., a band of young African Americans trained in nonviolent civil disobedience ended legalized racial segregation in the southern United States through the force of will, not the force of arms. When these peaceful marchers were attacked by police dogs, water hoses, and clubs, the power of their nonresistance immediately discredited their attackers and led to segregation's demise.
After years of civil strife in a racially divided nation, the Truth and Reconciliation trials in South Africa under the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu showed how truth is more easily discovered when the heart is open and the reward is to be forgiven. Instead of asking that their tormentors be punished, as an-eye-for-an-eye justice would have it, there were moments during some trials when victims of terrible atrocities felt a shift, connected to something greater than themselves, and spontaneously embraced the perpetrators.
In October 2006, the Amish in Pennsylvania captured our attention after a man murdered five of their young school girls and then killed himself. The people of this quiet community rushed to comfort the murderer's family and asked us to be forgiving. They showed us how, in extending lovingkindness in response to a wrong, everyone has an opportunity to find release and the possibility of transformation. The power embodied in their compassion stunned the nation. Many think we need swords to win, but it was their defenselessness that touched our hearts and brought honor upon their community as no sword could ever do.
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