Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys

endless desert and deep blue skies

The other day, amid the barrage of news reports about Syria, a reporter said something that particularly struck me.  Referring to a story about atrocities committed by the rebel army, the reporter said, "Sometimes it's kinda hard to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys here."  

The remark reminded me of the recent church burnings in Egypt. Christian churches were set on fire by radical Islamists, and at the same time, churches were also saved by Muslims in the community who stood in solidarity with their Christian neighbors and would not permit such violent behavior. 

The truth is that most of the time, "it's kinda hard to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys."

I've never been to Syria or to Egypt, but 15 years ago I went to Gaza, just at the time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in full-swing.  Myself and 8 other colleagues traveled on a peace-mission sponsored by the Anglican church. We first visited Israel, making a pilgrimage to the shrines of the Holy Land, and then we traveled into Gaza where we met with Yasser Arafat.

I still remember the fear I felt when we passed over the border into Palestinian territory. After all, Palestinians were the bad guys- the terrorists. Here I was sitting in a van with a police escort whisking us into the heart of Gaza City to meet with a notorious figure- the guy who had founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization. As the van sped to the meeting, I seriously questioned my sanity in accepting the offer to be part of this Anglican "peace mission."

But as in all cases, "it's sometimes kinda hard to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys." Arafat was very gracious. We talked about his hopes for peace (he had, in fact, just recently received the Nobel Peace Prize). He was a Muslim and he talked about his great respect for Christianity (his wife was a Christian and he was good friends with the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem at the time). 

When the meeting with Arafat finished, we were given a tour of Gaza City and the surrounding area. There was an abundance of poverty, but mostly we encountered lovely, hospitable people who were living simply and wanted nothing more than to live in peace. We had conversations with people on he streets and in the marketplace. We played with the kids who were thrilled to be interacting with Americans. 

And at the end of the day, we were driven to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea where a tent had been erected and we were treated to an astounding "Bedouin Feast," a lively festival of wonderful food and entertainment - a beautiful expression of the kind of generosity and abundant hospitality so prevalent in Arab cultures.

I often think of my time in Gaza when I hear news stories about the good guys and the bad guys. I am well aware that people do bad things. There will always be those who use their power to crush and harm their fellow human beings. But, for the most part, I have come to believe that most people in the world just want to live in peace. It's pretty hard to figure out the good guys from the bad guys.

So, I have come to the point in my life where I no longer look for good guys and bad guys. I have come to the point where I no longer think in terms of "foreigners"and different "others." I believe that there are no "others." There is only "us"  - and we are all related. 

One of my favorite Zen wisdom sayings goes like this:

The true person is not anyone in particular;
but like the deep blue color of the limitless sky,
the true person is everyone - everyone in the world.

We are all blue.

Visit this page for my new book:


  1. We may be all blue, but there's still a few rotten berries in the bowl...and a hell of a lot of unripened ones. No wonder the taste is bitter. The plumpest and juiciest blueberries are being, eaten. Excuse my metaphor.
    Why can't everyone be like us, aye!

  2. Great metaphors. Truth is though that even the sour or rotten berries in the bowl need love. Berries tend to be sour out of ignorance of the truth (a good Buddhist concept)

  3. People at the core are the same and have the same wants and needs: food, love, shelter, acceptance. But isn't it in the Bible, it is easy to love your friends/family. The challenge is to love the "other". I see lots of broken people everywhere, it is just a degree of how broken. I have less patience with the person with the big, late model, gas guzzling SUV than the person waiting for the bus who averts their eyes and have slumping shoulders. But when that person gets out of their car, I see a person, just like all the rest of us. And even if they walk self-assuredly, have expensive clothes, etc., if they cannot share a smile and maybe say hello, I think, too bad.

    I like to think that if we are a bit at home in ourselves and in our body and have an inner connection with that which is love, there is joy and we love because it is just who we are and this love can find the moment to say hello and accept others in hopefully a compassionate way.

    I don't think most bad apples are bad apples because they were born that way (biologically, chemically, imbalanced persons excepting). If you treat a child poorly, that child will grow up to be an adult who treats others the same way s/he has been treated. I like to look at people's eyes when they are difficult. I always think: Who's there?

  4. Thanks Vivian..very thoughtful as well as thought provoking.