I’ve chosen to spend much of this Labor Day weekend catching up on my reading. I’ve finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. They are well written, and more than a little disturbing. I’m glad I didn’t see the movie.
There are three of these novels. The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest is the last as the author, Stieg Larsson, has died. They are detective novels in style but thematically they address very directly the issues of sexual and physical abuse of women in Sweden. (And by inference, women everywhere.)
I don’t watch horror movies, movies about serial killers or psychological thrillers. I don’t need my head filled with those kinds of images. I don’t need the graphic details to be aware that there are terrible things that go on in the world. I certainly don’t need them sensationalized.
The question isn’t why does God let these horrible things happen. The real question is why do we?
Most of my friends are activists in one form or another. They give their time and resources to support programs that help people. Some of them work for civil rights for people that are not treated equally, or even acknowledged under the law. Some of them work for labor rights so that people don’t have to kill themselves to feed their families. Some of them work with women who have been abused or who don’t have the resources to help themselves. Some are political and some reach out to those in their community, however they may define that term.
It’s hard to see change when there is so much to be done. It’s hard when there is no money to support the work of helping others. It’s hard to keep going when the work you’re doing is not appreciated by a large portion of the population. It’s hard to help someone else when you are struggling yourself.
Do people really need it laid out for them in living color to believe that the world is not nice to everyone? Is it at all helpful to believe that people who are not as well off somehow did that to themselves? Does dramatizing horror help, or does it make it easier for people to say “but that’s a movie, things are not really that bad.” Are we so overwhelmed by the problems we see that we close our eyes and walk away?
The biggest blind spot may be how we fail to recognize our own contributions to the problems of the world. I have friends who wouldn’t dream of committing violent acts who I’ve seen bulling someone verbally. “No I wasn’t doing that,” they say, “I was just trying to make a point.” Given my upbringing I suspect I’ve also been a verbal bully, unaware and unintended.
There is a Buddhist philosophy that practices peace. The idea is that bringing peace to one’s own heart brings peace to the planet. The more peace and compassion we bring to the planet, the more peaceful and compassionate the planet becomes. This is not an easy practice, bringing peace and compassion into your heart and life every day. But it has the advantage of being within reach of every person on the planet, regardless of their circumstances.
Violence is thought to be rooted in lack. Perceived or real, this “have not” underpinning can produce an attitude of self righteousness that justifies all kinds of horrible behavior. We all find it easier to blame others for our failings, and that tendency produces a target to victimize. It’s where that twisted “your worthless and it’s all your fault” comes from. A peaceful heart addresses all of this.
Logically both statements, worthless and at fault, can’t hold true at the same time. But I would bet anyone reading this at some point in their lives has felt both things to be true of themselves. I can’t do anything right and it’s all my fault are global statements and hugely damaging to ourselves, and by association to the world.
The girl in the books, the one with the dragon tattoo, never takes on guilt for what has happened to her. She places blame directly where it belongs, on her abusers. She is highly ethical and entirely outside of societies standards for social behavior. When she deals with people who have wronged her (or other women) she deals with them directly and often gives them the opportunity to correct their behavior. She’s the scary one in the books.
She lives in a black and white world. She turns her back on anyone who wrongs her in the slightest, regardless of their intention. She is a bully in her own right, as she enforces her punishments on her abusers. There is no room for error in her judgements. And we (the readers) cheer her on because she has an impact that is beyond our capacity. She achieves justice with people who are otherwise untouchable by any system.
If everyone in the world had a compassionate intolerance for violence in any form, would violent people still be untouchable? Is it conceivable that with peace in the heart and strength in the body genuine help could be offered for the “have not?” Is contentment what is necessary in order to prevent others from exploiting the remaining resources?
I think it comes down to how we choose our heros. Do we appoint people to serve “beyond the law” and dole out justice like the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo? Do we look to Jesus or the Dali Lama to inspire us to join together in compassion, expecting better of ourselves and our society? Do we want Superman, or the Aliens or God to swoop in and save us all from ourselves?
Think about who you see as the heros in your life, and why. In the meantime I’ll get back to my work. Trying to be a hero to in my own life, just to myself.