Our nation recently commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It is a day that is forever etched in our collective consciousness. Who doesn’t remember where they and what they did when they heard the shattering news and saw the painful and horrifying images?
There have been a myriad of plaques, memorials, flags, news clips, speeches, prayers, rants and outbursts surrounding that fateful day. There are stories and video clips denoting the pain and suffering, others of respect and gratitude for the heroes who worked to save others, narratives of the few survivors, as well as stories of the family and friends who lost a loved one in one of our nation’s worst tragedies.
What I would like to see in the next 10 years are more stories of healing and humanity. While I believe we have to take measures to ensure our nation’s security, I worry that the most fundamental step, recognizing the importance of our oneness as a people, needs to be fostered.
We so often focus on how we differ from one another that it creates an artificial barrier. We all want to take pride in our uniqueness, but when we use this as a measurement of how we are somehow “better” than someone else, it creates problems. When something or someone is perceived as dissimilar, it becomes so much easier to use that difference as a reason to hate.
Sometimes that hate becomes violent.
Shortly after 9/11 2001, a Sikh man wearing a turban was gunned down. The gunman, Frank Rogue, believed his target was an Arab. The victim, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was a gasoline station owner who emigrated from India. Ironically, the Sikhs are known for their peace-loving nature and beliefs. What makes this even worse, at least for me, this violent act happened in my home town of Mesa, AZ.
As a Buddhist, I believe in the interconnectedness of humankind. Individuals are a microcosm of all of humanity and in the larger scheme, the universe. What we do to others we do to ourselves. Therefore, our actions of healing, compassion and understanding are needed far more than our acts of anger and hatred. While force may have a temporary effect to keep harm at bay, it does little to solve the inherent problem.
Since most of us identify with the things that set us apart from one another, it is difficult to imagine how inner connected we are. One example that illustrates our connectedness is pollution. If there a nuclear accident, the fallout is not contained to that given area. Radiation seeps into the earth and ground water, travels through our rivers, streams and ocean, as well as traveling hundreds and thousands of miles by blowing winds.
In a more humorous analogy I remember a story I heard years ago. A father was trying to bond with his son and decided to take him fishing in a small fishing boat. The son was in the front of the boat and the father in the back. When they were in the middle of the lake they hit a rock and water gushed near the father’s feet. The son seemed undeterred and even laughed about the situation. The father asked why the boy thought the situation was funny and the boy responded, “Because the leak is in YOUR part of the boat.”
In the next few years I hope we will spend less time focusing on past hurts and put our energy into solving problems by engaging others in heart-felt dialogue and recognizing the humanity in one another. We cannot root out all evil, but we can take steps to heal our planet by recognizing our similarities rather than dwelling on our differences.
A quote by Mushrif–ud-Din Abdullah, a Persian poet wrote a poem that graces the entrance of the Hall of Nation of the UN Building in New York.
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
Before the 11th anniversary of 9/11 I hope we can report several instances where we were a source of hope and light for humankind and our planet. We share this world with others and it is in our best interest to try to get along. After all, we are all in the same boat.