Ask the deeper questions
A flood of questions follows horrifying actions like the Boston Marathon bombing. Who is to blame? How did it happen? Why? Could we have stopped it? Can we keep it from happening again? We analyze each incident with an excruciatingly complex compilation of details. We hope for answers from the accumulation of minutiae.
Shouldn’t we also ask the deeper questions, the questions that would generalize specific events to insights about the universal nature of fury, hatred, alienation, dissociation in human beings? Have we taken seriously the critical need to truly understand and address mental health, not only here, but across the globe? What erupts within the human heart and mind to inflame the rage to kill? Could anything inhibit the rabidity that fuels terror? Could people ever see how to create and sustain peace and stability?
In order to fully prevent — to eradicate — anything, the source must be clearly identified. Until the root cause is certain, prevention is randomly effective and situational. For example, even though it had been known since the Roman Empire that sewage must be diverted to avoid widespread sickness in concentrated populations, no one knew what was intrinsic to sewage that was the actual cause of illness until the germ theory of disease was proven in the mid-1800’s. Then we knew how the primary source of illness could contaminate and disseminate in many ways. Solving the spread of the one true source was the answer that allowed us to begin to control diseases.
As we think about cruelty, violence, evil now, we are like the ancient Romans. We want to keep them away from populations, so we look after the fact to figure out how to do that better. We take it for granted that dealing with those dark aspects of human behavior is inevitable, so we keep looking for more ways to wall them off and push them farther from us — more security, more barricades, more restrictions, more suspicion, more weapons. We are especially dismayed in the face of obvious ambiguity, of situations like the Boston bombers and other youthful terrorists around the world. Those who grew up around the perpetrators often tell us that they were good kids, good friends, happy guys. How could that be? Does the potential for terror lurk even in the apparently nice people we generally like? Why would seemingly intelligent, athletic, friendly young men turn into ruthless, remorseless, mass killers? What is the contaminant? How do we keep it away?
In the more than 30 years I have been working to extend the reach of the Principles of an inside-out logic that explains the whole range of human experience, I have wondered why some central questions have not generally registered with people. For example:
- If the causes of human behavior are external, why wouldn’t the same external forces create the same reactions in everyone exposed to them?
- Since common sense shows us that people respond differently to the same external circumstances, why aren’t we looking for the mediator that explains that?
Questions that reach below the surface of our prevailing assumptions easily get lost. It is the history of humanity to live within the boundaries of the theories about life that are most widely accepted in our eras. So, before the discovery of germ theory, people accepted frequent contagion and widespread outbreaks of disease as normal “acts of nature”. Now, we see them as abnormal and we know what to look for to bring them under control.
At this point in our general understanding of human psychology, the prevailing theories all suggest that life happens to us, and everything we think and feel and do is generated by things outside ourselves. Without realizing it, we see ourselves as perpetual victims of circumstances, both good and bad. We consistently look for causes outside ourselves to explain effects within ourselves. Who or what should we blame or thank for our experience of life? He made me mad. You make me cheerful. I’ll be happy if … Of course, he or she is this or that — look at his or her family/schooling/background/environment/friends/religion… Because we empower all the stuff in our life, we are always struggling with things outside of our control.
What if we are missing a crucial link in our understanding of ourselves? What if we generate our experience from within, by the thoughts that flow through us, mediated by the level of awareness we have that we are the thinkers of our own thoughts and thus the creators of our own experience of reality? What if the power is within each person on earth to recognize how thinking works and see how to discriminate wise thinking from destructive thinking? What if this knowledge is intrinsic, but not always understood, and therefore easily awakened? What if the universal source of all of our responses to the external world is the way we hold and use our own thinking about it?
Reflect for a moment. A mind at peace does not, could not, conceive violence as a viable action. A mind at peace creates ease, connection to other people, compassion and engagement in life. A mind in turmoil will conceive and act on whatever thoughts seem to offer relief from inner torment. A mind in turmoil creates insecurity, righteous self-absorption, alienation, hatred and disregard for life.
If part of early education, just as ordinary as math and reading, were a true understanding of how our own minds, how all human minds, work to create our experience, young people would know early on how to use their feeling state to navigate their own thinking. They would recognize which thoughts make sense to guide them into action, and which thoughts to leave alone. They would not be frightened by any of their thinking, regardless of how bizarre or destructive, because they would understand that all thoughts are fleeting images created within our own minds that have no meaning beyond our level of commitment to them. They would live at peace within themselves. When we are at peace inside, there will be peace in the world.
Cut off from innate wisdom, a lost thinker experiences isolation, fear and confusion. This is why there are so many atrocities throughout the world. Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p 83.