- Joshua Trees -
In his recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Roger Cohen offered a sober and frightening analysis about How Dictatorships are Born, suggesting that our current political turmoil in this country has created a society ripe for the surge of a renewed spirit of racism and bigotry that not only threatens our democracy but endangers our humanity.
The news article tells the story of a young woman who was born in El Salvador and now lives as a naturalized American citizen in an upscale neighborhood just outside San Francisco. The woman recounted a time a few weeks ago when she was shopping in a local grocery store and, because of her “brown skin,” she was confronted by a fellow shopper who said: “You should shop at Safeway, this is a store for white people.”
In his op-ed piece, Mr. Cohen suggested that in the past a comment like this would likely have never been made in a “sophisticated” place like a San Francisco suburb, but nowadays many people feel that they have been given permission to unleash their previously-controlled bigotry and racist attitudes:
Once unsayable things can now be said everywhere,
‘Go back to where you came from, you don’t belong here’
has become the phrase du jour.
When I first read this story I found myself utterly repulsed by that citizen telling a neighbor that she “doesn’t belong.” In some sense the greatest insult we can ever level against any other human being is to tell them: “You don’t belong here.”
I am reminded of something the Dalai Lama once said when he suggested that belonging lies at the core of our humanity, ingrained our biology, embedded in our DNA. By our very nature, we are physically and spiritually interwoven onto a web of relationship with one another and with a world of nature; so to tell someone they don’t belong is to deny their very humanity, to pluck them out of the web of existence. If you want to insult someone, you can’t go lower than this!
The Dalai Lama said:
There is a reasonably substantial body of evidence
in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and other fields
suggesting that even from the most rigorous scientific perspective
we are all connected.
Interdependence is a key feature of human reality, and so
as human beings we can survive and thrive
only in an environment of compassion.
This also reminds me of something priest and author, Richard Rohr, once said:
The problem is that we think we are separated.
If an American citizen can accost a neighbor in a grocery store and, without impunity, tell her that she “doesn’t belong there and that she she go back to where she came from,” we do indeed have a problem in this society. This is a threat to our democracy but more than that, this kind of behavior may be a warning for us all to heed very closely. More than turning into a dictatorship, our very survival as human beings may be at stake.
The Buddha taught:
See yourself in others, then whom can you hurt
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Such powerfully vital wisdom for these troubled times in which we live.