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Feeding The Compassionate Wolf


15 February 2002

In Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are gone, and this is good. But, how do Afghan mothers mourning their dead babies feel about the American bombing? Afghans, so singularly focused on survival, may have no time to wonder why we persist in using such primitive means to achieve our ends, but what about us? Do we Americans care that our bombing Afghanistan resulted in more dead innocents than the total from September 11th? Even though many of Americaís friends abroad question the appropriateness of continuing our military response to September 11th, we hear few Americans questioning. Yet, the new reality that September 11th brought to our collective awareness calls for a new response. Worldwide there may still be up to 70,000 active al-Qaeda operatives. Although many of these are criminals and must be treated as such, many are also lost souls attracted to al-Qaeda because their own nations offer little beyond poverty and tyranny. Bombing countries where these 70,000 hide is not morally defensible, given the thousands of civilian deaths that would result from our actions. Furthermore, as long as we fail to address why young men are attracted to al-Qaeda, we can never win our race with bin Ladenís recruiting campaign.

We Americans, united in great suffering at the hands of those driven by dogma in conflict with our best traits, cannot let our pain blind us to others with just-as-real suffering. We are the most inventive people on earth, and we can, if we choose, turn our inventiveness to the complex problem of both protecting ourselves and at the same time addressing the tremendous pain of others in our global community. We have let our pain imprison us in the old nationalistic militaristic box, but we must think outside that box at a higher evolutionary level. We can and we must stop excluding moral leadership from the mix of attributes that make America so great.

The total civilian deaths resulting from our military action in Afghanistan will probably exceed the current estimate of 4,000. Furthermore, we have killed thousands of civilians in Iraq in the last decade, and who knows how many we would add to that were we to now attack Iraq. How separate from our hearts we must be to slaughter innocents in order to apprehend criminals, know it, rationalize it, and do nothing to stop it.

Killing is certainly not what makes us human. No, we rise above the animals with our ability to transcend primitive urges and manifest more creative and compassionate actions. However, because we express our killing with fancy technology, we think we are better than the alligator or bear, but that is delusion. Killing innocent people is still killing innocent people.

A tale of an American Indian traveled the Internet after September 11th. In reaction to the terrorist tragedies, this man said, ďI have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other is the loving, compassionate one.Ē When his grandson asked which wolf will win, the grandfather answered, ďThe one I feed.Ē

As the grandfather confesses, we all have the vengeful aspect. Itís part of our animal wiring. But, we also have the capability to access more evolved circuitry. So far, the Bush administration has done an outstanding job of feeding the vengeful wolf in our nationís heart, while merely paying lip service to the compassionate one. What if Americaís leaders fed her compassionate wolf? What if America focused the greater share of her tax and technology dollars not on traditional war but on solving the long-term, worldwide and deeper-than-bombs problems revealed by September 11th?

Given Americaís reputation for violence, greed, and unilateralism, we seem young in terms of moral achievement. Even as this is written, America is acting like a rebellious teenager regarding the upcoming UN summit on global poverty, and appears to be obstructing othersí efforts to establish internationally funded programs for poor countries. There comes a day, however, when children move beyond self-centeredness and take on the cooperative responsibilities of maturity. September 11th presented America the opportunity for completing that rite of passage into moral adulthood and new world leadership. So far, we havenít risen to the challenge.

The other day a homeless man threw an aggressive gesture at me, as I sat in my car. At first I wanted to call the police, but, as my initial fear and anger subsided, I saw clearly his dire state. Had I contributed to his condition? Had I supported policies that helped put him where he was? I understood his anger at my relative wealth, so expected neither sane nor mature gesture from him. No, that must come from me, the one with relative wealth, free attention, and therefore capability for helping those who cannot help themselves. I am like America, I thought, and he like so many nations of disenfranchised and hungry souls. He is dangerous, a man with nothing to lose, while I have everything to lose and much to give. Yet, as long as I focus exclusively on my losing, I feel threatened and cannot access generous impulses. Certainly, I need to defend myself, but must defending preclude long-term work to eliminate what fuels his rage?

I think we continue to choose revenge and protection while dismissing the pain of other nations, because we suffer what Depok Chopra calls a deep wound at the heart of humanity. To the extent that we separate from our heart (our capacity to feel our common humanity and connectedness to all life), we are capable of killing and, without remorse, observing others kill. In the petty slights of daily life, most of us experience only minor demonstrations of such disconnection, but on September 11th, we experienced al-Qaedaís most horrific demonstration. However, we must not shy from admitting that America has also been guilty of horrific demonstrations, and that itís now time to stop emphasizing militaristic approaches. Itís time, as one musician phrased it, for a revolution of the heart. Itís time to feed the compassionate wolf.

Cathryn Christy
Published by Common Dreams (c) Cathryn Christy


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