An antidote to polarization and violence
A birthday celebration (Birthday girl not shown)
I enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s novel Luncheon of the Boating Party so much I seriously considered a visit to The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. to see Renoir’s painting by the same name. I didn’t go, but in visiting Vreeland’s website I found a gem of a quote for my database. (Curiously, if the above photo were blurred it would bear a slight resemblance to Renoir’s painting).
Where there is no imagination of others’ lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no chance for compassion to govern. Without compassion, then loving kindness, human understanding and peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, and the isolated can turn resentful, narrow, cruel; they can become blinded, and that’s where prejudice, holocausts, terrorism and tragedy hover. Art and literature are antidotes to that. — Susan Vreeland, Novelist
Reading this in the context of a recent mass shooting, again by a man who was a “loner,” someone who wasn’t sharing his life or engage in their lives, Susan’s suggestion that art and literature could be antidotes to the lack of human connection triggered “What if…?” ideas that would apply equally to other situations where people are estranged due to prejudice, tension, mistrust, hatred, fear, injustice, local fighting or even warfare.
For instance, what if fine artists, representing polarized parties, were to begin a process of regularly displaying joint exhibitions of their artwork outdoors in a variety of public places, promoted as a call to encourage diverse expression and personal interaction? I imagined people connecting—conversing—over both the subject matter, aesthetics, presentation and other exhibition opportunities.
What if performing artists in music, dance and standup comedy, those representing diverse identities, issue, worldview or philosophy were to perform together periodically, outdoors, free of charge in different neighborhoods? The purpose would be to provide opportunities for the performers and those in the audience to have a joyful and uplifting shared experience. During breaks, organizers would go around making introductions and facilitating conversations.
What if an organization such as a library, church or park commission were to hold summer outdoor picnic style book fairs with discussion groups in local parks? Books to be discussed would be announced in advance so on the day of the event readers would recognize their group. I imagined the events being facilitated by people well-versed in the books’ subjects or stories. In addition, he or she would make introductions and get people talking to one another. To encourage attendance, the events would be promoted in diverse neighborhoods., people would bring food for their family and friends—and some to share.
Those are just a few ideas for bringing opposing parties together locally, featuring art and literature. My “out of the box” musing relative to adversaries on the international stage derives from prescedents throughout history—you don’t commit war on a neighboring king if your son or daughter is married to his son or daughter, especially when they live in the same area.
For example, among the ancient Maya cross-polity marriages increased trade and made allies of kings who might otherwise be regarded as enemies. Many of these marriages endured—and created peace—through several generations. It must be noted, however, one particular king married off his daughters for the express purpose of creating allies to war on his ancestor’s bitter enemy.
While cross-nation marriage between nations isn’t a realistic option in the modern era, there’s wisdom in the idea that it’s against human nature to harm, kill or destroy a city where your relatives or loved ones are living. In my opinion, the leaders of nations who perpetrate violence on another nation, for whatever reason, have yet to learn—in Gandhi’s words—that “All men are brothers.”
Engineer and visionary Willis Harman tells the story of talking with a Native American leader about how white people have difficulty understanding the Indian way of looking at the world. The Indian replied: “It’s easy. You only have to remember two things. One is, everything in the universe is alive. The other is, we’re all relatives.”
At a personal level, we need to be on the lookout for loners and others afflicted with mental illness—at all ages—to ensure that they get the help they need. The tendency may be to stand back and not engage them, but in many cases reaching out and engaging could become a life-saving gesture. Here, I’m thinking of teen suicide. And we can teach our children to include anyone who has a tendency to be excluded by others. Linda, my wife, can even name the individuals her group included as a result of the nuns teaching them to do so.
What we think about we make more of. It’s how an adversarial mindset, whatever its roots, grows and develops into a perception of the “other” as an enemy to be separate from and defeated. He or they are no longer perceived as persons. Like hammers that only see nails, adversaries focus on differences. To be effective, any resolution to these situations requires a shift in perception—from “He’s wrong and I’m right.” “God and history are on our side,” and “Their way only makes things worse,” to “We both have something of value to offer, so let’s focus on that.” To get there, all parties (personal, political and national) need to come together in a context that provides meaningful human contact.
Internationally, the world stage is immense and remote and the principal players are caught up in power grabs and gamesmenship. Is there anything we can do at that level? Because consciousness is fundamental and we’re all related, we can pray for the world leaders who are bent on killing, creating miserys and destroying property like we would a relative who’s suffering. Naming their names, we can visualize them immersed in light—cocoons of love and compassion. Meanwhile, we can intend that they be at peace with whatever their souls require. Ultimately, at all levels, everything happens for a good reason.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
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