Day 12 - How Compassion Relates to Peace
While moving around today, my daily movement-inspired contemplation was looking around me for local or even national examples where compassion has been used as a strength and motivation to speak to, challenge, and act against big power and too big power, just as MLK did so often.
So many folks, examples, and moments in history that were not too often documented came to mind, as I wandered through my now daily 40k practice.
People and movements that have inspired and activated me over the years.
The likes of my friends on the Northwest of the island where my heart still connects, who took on and won a peace battle against one of the world's leading arms manufacturers, Raytheon, (one of many companies profiteering from war, destruction, and violent human-made oppression throughout the world) and forced them to close, after a small group of 9 peace activists, took nonviolent actions that saw them in the courts in Belfast and forced them to defend their compassionate acts. Raytheon was producing bunker bombs for the Israeli military used against civilians in Gaza and other parts of Palestine, and some local discerning residents said, enough was indeed, enough, and "not in our name."
People like Eamon McCann, who has been acting for peace and justice all of his adult life, even before Bloody Sunday was imposed on his community in 1972 when the British Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civil rights, peace march, killing 13 civilians wounding the whole island. In 2006, Eamon, and 8 other members of the anti-war coalition in Derry, driven by compassion, empathy and justice, and a sense of agency to impact peace, today, not tomorrow, occupied the US arms producer in their city and won. I was living in Palestine at the time and volunteering for a Peace project, my goodness, did this story give energy, solidarity, and positive fuel to keep going, just like today.
And just today, I've been hearing about two Peace Activists back in Ireland who have thankfully been acquitted after defending themselves in a Dublin court for a 10-week trial. They were attempting to defend millions of innocent, defenseless children, women, and men in communities across the Middle East and beyond, from being bombed by war machinery that passes through Ireland (a so-called neutral state) for refueled profits, before perpetuating more violence against humanity.
This, for me, again, is an act of engaged compassion.
Witnessing violence, injustice, or unfairness of any kind, we all have choices about our reactions, our actions, and our inactions. I feel it is compassion that gives us the motivation to decide what to do to somehow alleviate suffering, but compassion, combined with empathic concern and wisdom or discernment, can lead us to the most appropriate answer as to what exactly to do, or not to do. This, of course, affects inner and outer peace, and our sense of agency and willingness to act in the name of peace that comes into play based on the three levels of compassion:
Wishing Compassion, simply wishing that suffering wasn't happening, hoping it will stop, not playing any part in keeping the suffering going but also not taking any personal responsivity or sense of real agency to stop the suffering.
Aspiring Compassion has a little more urgency to it, it's an aspiration that I or we can do something about this to end the suffering, but no real personal responsibility or agency to do anything. Thinking about it more and maybe even bringing it into conversation or debate.
Engaged Compassion is different. It is what these two men, (retired Irish soldier Edward Horgan and civil servant Dan Dowling, and many thousands of people all over the world do, daily) did in Ireland. They took agency, and decided that watching children being killed daily in the Middle East, coming onto their screens and radar, and not doing anything about it, was not an option. They traveled to the very (public) airport where warplanes were being refueled, allowed by the Irish state, before they continued to bomb communities across the Middle East, and took action to draw attention to this and protest it. They were on trial for allegedly writing, using a marker, on the side of the planes, 'danger, danger' and 'don't fly'.
Engaged compassion is a decision we take, a call to action based on our level of compassion to do anything within our capacity in each moment, to try and stop, prevent, or alleviate the suffering of others (and or ourselves). So, whether we sometimes disagree with someone's actions or tactics to reduce the suffering of others, and a willingness to do something, I greatly respect those who are willing to step outside of their comfort and resilient zones and act in the name of peace and compassion for others, and thankfully, in this case, even though these two men, one a grandfather, approaching 80 and one, a father, the very same age as me, 40, had to defend themselves for over 10 weeks in a court where the state was attempting to put both men in prison for their actions, the judge decided not to sentence them and to give a ruling on the side of compassion and peace (for a change!). In his closing address to the jury, the defendant said, "the act of criminal damage (writing on the US Navy warplanes) was justified to draw attention to a threat to others, which could then be ameliorated or alleviated. "They both described themselves as "peace activists" who were trying to do what was right.
Passing judgment yesterday, Judge Martina Baxter praised both accused for their "upstanding character, composure and dignity" at all stages during the trial. She said there was no issue with the men continuing their monthly peaceful protests but warned them that they must be peaceful. The men were found guilty of trespassing while committing their compassionate acts and asked by the judge to give a financial gesture (not a fine) to a women's refuge in the community close to the airport. Both men agreed to the judge and jury's verdict and walked free yesterday but added outside on the steps of the court, "we won't be celebrating today. We will be commemorating all the children killed in the Middle East – up to one million children – and unfortunately still being killed as we speak."
Without any intention of encouraging guilt, shame, or other un-useful mental states or negative motivations, I would like to finish this blog entry with these simple questions:
Which levels of compassion are we engaged with right now, daily, when confronted with the suffering of one kind or another that we unavoidably witness and observe?
How can a more peaceful society be realized if it simply remains a dream, a wish, or an aspiration?