In the book The Fifth Discipline, Peter M. Senge's classic text on systemic thinking and analysis, the author provides a model of how America's (and other countries’) war on terrorism, and how terrorists’ self-proclaimed war on America (and other countries), forms a system that blindly perpetuates itself as an absurdly out-of-control mechanism. It is a system in which neither an advantageous overview nor a serious consideration of compassion is taken into account.:
“The United States responds to a perceived Threat to Americans by increasing U.S. military activities, which increases the Perceived Aggressiveness of the U.S., which leads to more Terrorists Recruits, which eventually leads to more Terrorist Activities and increases the Threat to the United States, which leads to more U.S. military activities, which increases the Terrorist Recruits, which...and so on, and so on. From their individual viewpoints, each side focuses on its short-term goals. Both sides respond to perceived threats. But their actions end up creating escalating danger for everyone... “(Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, 2006 rev. ed., p 7. Note: the mid-sentence capitalizations are Senge's).
Imagine if both sides were able to focus was on achieving a long-term goal of mutual cooperation inspired by intentional compassion.
Senge's model might sound sinister or even traitorous to some. Others may very well find it applicable--when replacing the descriptions of the principal actors, various countries and terrorists, with more personal associations--to their individual lives. It certainly fits when examining the documented patterns of distrust, fear, and bias that exist between many African-American communities and law enforcement officials. The nonstop cycles of negative reinforcement have resulted in homicides ruled justifiable by the courts followed by retaliatory violence described as hateful by the media. Each gorges its madness on the spilled blood of the other.
Healing Trauma with Compassion
We perceive intentional threats or attacks when what we're really dealing with may be something very different. Instead of taking time to honor our shared humanity and gain a deeper understanding of the issues dividing us, we too often go into retaliation mode and crank up the cycles of dishing out one round of grief after another.
Obviously, as well as arguably, what Senge defined more than a decade ago as “perception” can now be referred to as a catalog, or contemporary history, of specific events and responses throughout the international community. The April 20, 2017, Champs Elysees attack in Paris, the May 20, 2017, suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, and the June 3, 2017 attack on the London Bridge in England are but a few examples. Far too many have occurred since these.
Radically enough, the response to the Manchester bombing went beyond exchanges of gunfire to a kind a musical ministry as Grande, accompanied by numerous musical guests, returned to Manchester for a triumphant One Love benefit concert that kicked off one day after the London Bridge horror. They had no reason to believe the danger had dissipated; what they knew without question was a time had come when compassion could no longer be sacrificed to fear.
When we fail to demonstrate compassion, love, peace, or to give that that elevated state of expanded awareness known as metacognition a chance to heal our divisive grievances, we then fail as well to recognize that ultimately the freedom and well-being of the one is dependent on that of “the other.” Ultimately, which side of an ideological fence you occupy matters less than you think if it prompts you to betray your greatest human spiritual potential.
What kind of difference could it make for humanity's chances of surviving a period in world history when men and women seem overcrowded on the precarious edge of a tipping point that could see us fall backward into a savage anarchy just as easily as it could witness unprecedented progression toward a new era of enlightened unification?
The One and the Many
My memory of discussions about compassion, as part of a larger moral imperative during the period known as my boyhood, included three important assertions that are no less significant now than they were then. Such discussions played as much a role in arguments against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa as they did in advocating for gender equality and ending the colonization and environmental destruction of under-developed countries (something which laid the groundwork for any number of current conflicts).
Among the points of consideration: 1) Oppression diminishes the lives of oppressors as much as it does those of the oppressed. 2) Willingness to hear what "others" have to say regarding unresolved conflicts is essential to any hopes of achieving resolution leading to coexistence. 3) Whether based on an impressive spiritual or political philosophy informed by notions of empathy and justice or not, concrete change-for-the-better, if truly desired, required concrete committed action.
Please do not assume that the word oppressor as it is used in this third-score summertime remembrance refers only to the tyranny of a dictatorship, oligarchy, or system of apartheid. Oppression can, and does, come in many forms. For instance:
If you are under the impression that the use of starvation as a weapon of war is not a kind of oppression, it would be good to rid yourself of the taste for such exotic falsehoods.
Or: if you believe the abduction, manipulation, and general coercion of youth to “persuade” them that dressing up as bombs and obliterating all hopefulness in their lives is not a form of oppression, now would be a perfect time to acknowledge truth as it is irrefutably recognized within the heart of your heart.
Moreover: as devoted as you (or someone you love) may be to the belief that an entire prison industrial complex system constructed for the purpose of erasing human lives based on racial or economic bias is not oppression, grant yourself courage to ask––what else could it be?
If you are convinced that depriving girls of education is beneficial to the growth and stability of a community or nation, and not a brand of oppression, the time has come to speak from the depths of the wisdom of love within your soul and proclaim that you reject the temptations of ignorance.
This print and other artwork by Aberjhani is available in the Charter for Compassion Marketplace
Debilitating tyranny can also be applied to social conditions described as intimate, familial, or professional. The difference, for example, between being a highly-creative individual within a large family of traditionalists prone to conservatism in many instances can resemble laboring as an innovative nonprofit entrepreneur in a larger society trending toward fascism.
The instincts most natural to the creative individual, such as innovation and reimagining, can make her or him appear as a threat to the idea of security treasured by those who prefer repetitions of familiar routines. That perceived threat might then result––as seen in Senge’s model of exchanges between terrorists and different nations–– in targeting individuals in ways that lead to their marginalization or intentional exclusion. One useful example is how certain government officials in Asia view and react to contemporary artist and expatriate Ai Weiwei.
In any of the above scenarios, the unique gifts of a singular personality may be obliterated by fear-driven mob-like dispositions. The world then finds itself deprived of the light of an exceptional imagination--such as that of an Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), Toni Morrison (b. 1931), or Alice Walker (b.1944)-- which may have benefitted the one as well as the many.
author of The River of Winged Dreams
co-author of ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love