Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hardened Hearts

"Beauty in the Wilderness"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Last evening I watched a TV news report about a doctor in a New York City hospital who showed up with a gun and shot several of his colleagues and I suddenly realized that I was paying very little attention to this horrific event. I wondered why a story about a physician gunning down his fellow doctors in a place of healing had little or no effect on me - was the body count too low? I also noted that, other than that one brief story on the evening news, the hospital shooting had very little coverage in the media.

I’ve been thinking about the seemingly nonchalant response to what was undeniably a terrible mass shooting yesterday and I wondered if perhaps we have been so inundated with so many stories of hatred and violence that we have essentially become immune to them? If a story about a doctor brutally shooting other doctors in a hospital is no longer heart-wrenching maybe our hearts have become hardened?

I am reminded of a scientific principle known as the “boiling frog syndrome.” It may sound a bit crass, but there have been some experiments in which a frog has been placed into a pot of cold water on a stove top - there is no lid on the pot and the frog is able to jump out of the out at any time. The heat is then turned up and the temperature of the water is raised very slowly, one degree at a time until the water gradually comes to a boil.  Failing to sense the growing danger of the heating pot, the frog simply gets used to the gradually increasing temperatures and instead of jumping to safety, the frog ultimately boils to death.

Perhaps many of us nowadays are suffering from this syndrome?

Every day we expect to hear about the newest terrorist event, the most recent shooting. Every day we are immersed in a sea of spiteful rhetoric, hateful words about cleansing the nation of undesirable foreigners, bitter personal attacks in the social media. Over the years more and more people in this country have gradually become more and more isolationist, xenophobic and racist. So I wonder if the “hate and terror temperature” in the pot of the culture is increasing day by day but we have gradually gotten used to the heat and have become numb to it, so we nonchalantly accept the growing darkness without even trying to jump out of the pot?

There is a passage in the Bible that says:

The hearts of these people have become hardened.
They hear very little with their ears.
They have closed their eyes.
If they did not do this they would
see with their eyes, hear with their ears and 
understand with their hearts,
then they would be changed and be healed.

As we celebrate Independence Day weekend in the United States I reflect on my own indifferent response to all the suffering and simmering hatred heating up in this nation and I vow again to intentionally renew my effort at softening up my own hardened heart. I want to to feel along with the suffering of others in this country and in this world because there are no different others and what happens to others happens to me. When I am able to soften my heart I shall indeed be changed and I shall be healed. 

The psychologist, Rollo May, once observed

Hate is not the opposite of love,
apathy is.

A hardened heart is probably the same thing as being apathetic, and since apathy is the opposite of love, apathy is to be avoided at all costs because “God” is “Love.”

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