[Published on Independent Australia 21 Dec 16.]
Many Americans and Brits are struggling to come to terms with the votes for Trump and Brexit. We haven’t had the same shock in Oz, but we have a creeping version of the same disease.
Chip Giller, the founder of Grist magazine, which insists on humour in the face of general insanity, tells how recently he was moved to tears by Harry Potter. Yes, the fictional boy wizard. It’s a powerful story, that’s why it’s so popular. Harry chose to stand for what’s right, against impossible odds. Then a lot of Harry’s friends chose to stand with him, validating the love among them, and perhaps creating a glimmer of hope.
Giller was reminded that if enough Americans of good heart and good will stand together they might resist the forces of fear being marshalled by Donald Trump.
The Harry Potter series of novels is set in a world of magic, but running through it is this message: the highest magic is love. Harry and his generation are 30 by now. They have absorbed the message that to defeat the dark Lord Voldemort you have to stay true to yourself, and not give yourself over to rage, hate or fear.
The first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, almost forty years ago. Its first generation of fans is in its fifties and sixties. The central theme is Luke Skywalker’s struggle within himself not to yield to the dark side, the side of Darth Vader. He may use The Force (the universal life force) to help others, or he may use it to gain personal power over others. If he yields to anger then he loses, as Vader yielded and lost before him.
If we merely rage at those peddling fear, then we only feed the cycle of conflict. We feed the anger, resentment and fear of those we rage against, so they only rage more against us. The antidote to violence is not more violence.
There is an antidote to anger, hatred, racism, and xenophobia. There is an antidote to greed, to arrogance and to autocracy. You can find the antidote once you recognise that beneath these negative feelings and behaviours lies fear. These are the things we feel and think and do when we allow fear to drive us.
The antidote to fear is love. Love and fear cannot coexist. If you allow yourself to be driven by fear then you will be hateful, not loving.
If, on the other hand, you choose to act out of love, it means you are choosing to recognise the humanity of everyone else, even including those doing hateful things.
If you recognise the humanity of another, then you allow that deep down they are just like you, and you open the way to truly hearing them. You may hear, if you listen with an open heart, that they want to be left to live their lives as they choose, and they want a better world for their children.
Amaryllis Fox worked for the CIA, until she realised the only real way to disarm your enemy is to listen to them. We’ve all heard the proverb “Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes”. If you believe your enemy is a subhuman psychopath, an “evildoer”, then conflict can only continue. On the other hand if you discover the “enemy” is misunderstanding and misguided policy, perhaps on both sides, then you open the way to resolving conflict.
The movie Dead Man Walking is one of the more powerful portrayals of love in action. It tells the story of the nun Sister Helen Prejean, who insisted on seeing the light in everyone, even in a depraved murderer. Once he too was an innocent child. As she might put it, his soul was still there to be saved.
It doesn’t mean we can save everyone, or connect with all those who resort to violence. But we would reach a lot more if we tried more, and there’s plenty of room for us to try more.
We’ve all heard the message, it passes often through our lives. Love thy neighbour as thyself. We don’t always remember. In our busy modern lives we may forget a lot of the time. I do. But the message is there.
It might be in music. Ludwig van Beethoven was fiftyish, nearly stone deaf, lonely and bad tempered, yet he could still access within himself the full range of human yearning and emotion, and distill it into music. The slow movement of his ninth Symphony is a fifteen-minute hymn to love. There are many others.
We can all find the message of love in our life. We can hold it so it can remind us, whether it be Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, the Bible, the Koran, a poem, story, song or symphony.
So remember as politicians strut and squabble, say hateful things, cut down much that is worthwhile in life, and even commit crimes against humanity, remember that each person who voted for them has a story. Each person has a reason for being resentful and angry. We can scorn them or we can listen to them.
If we listen with a full heart we may well discover that what they want is not so different from what we want. It may not be so hard to arrange things so we all get more of what we want. We may then feel we are getting a reasonably fair deal. We may even decide we can move on in mutual tolerance, even mutual respect.