countering hate and violence

Someone posted a question on the Baha’i group on Reddit, asking “What can be done by one person to counter hate/violence in the world?” It was a great question, so I decided to try and give it an answer. Here goes.

As I see it, the most potent antidote to a rising tide of hate and violence is to help yourself and others around you—especially young people—to raise their capacity to show spiritual qualities such as love, kindness, steadfastness, justice, reliance on God and compassion, and to serve humanity selflessly.

Get involved in a junior youth group and give young people a space where they can learn what it means to transform themselves and their community at the same time. Or get involved as a teacher of children’s classes so you can give younger children the spiritual foundation they’ll need to become agents of change within their communities. Work with a teaching team so that you don’t burn yourself out, and so that you can coordinate your actions with others.

It’s important that we not underestimate the uplifting and transforming power of these seemingly simple acts of service. Carried out consistently, persistently, and with a spirit of service, they can completely change the face of our communities—not only Baha’i communities, but the greater community.

If you want to see what this can eventually lead to, check out the Frontiers of Learning video. In particular, the section from Colombia brings me a lot of hope, but all of them show the transforming power of collective action within the framework of the Plan.

how much longer?

On the same day, December 14, 2012, two attacks on schools happened on opposite sides of the globe: a stabbing spree in Chenpeng village, Henan, China, in which 22 children and an elderly woman were injured; and a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, in which 27 were killed, including 20 children. I jotted down these thoughts soon after I heard the news.

I remember recently watching a mini-documentary about World War I that explained how the horrors of trench warfare led to cynicism becoming “normal”, first among the soldiers who had witnessed them, and then among the society they returned to. Man’s inhumanity to man had turned him sour, leaving him to despair. This sense of despair was reinforced by World War II and the conflicts that followed, and although economies recovered and material wealth grew, a crisis of spirit persisted. A new, idealistic generation rebelled against war in all its forms in the 1960s and 70s, showing a true and profound craving for justice, peace, brotherhood and spiritual renewal in what they called the “Age of Aquarius“. For the most part, though, this craving was denied, and mankind sunk deeper into despair and cynicism.

How much longer will this craving go unsatisfied, and how many more bodies will have to pile up, not only in our schools but throughout our bruised, battered and shell-shocked world? What will it take for things to change? I don’t really know the first answer, but for the second, I’ll tell you.

are you learning how to make a difference?In the junior youth group that my wife is running in our neighbourhood, she and the girls—aged 11 to 13—are reading about the story of Kibomi, a young boy who believes he can make a difference. Kibomi lives in a country full of strife, and his parents are killed in front of his eyes one day. He runs for his life, and along the way, as he struggles to come to terms with the horrors he has just seen, he meets people who help him see that he has a choice: either to sink into despair, rage, violence and revenge; or to turn his suffering into fuel that will help him change the lives of those around him for the better. Doing the latter takes strength of character that he’s not sure he has, but as he meets more and more people who are working hard to build bonds of loving-kindness and unity between the warring tribes, he realizes that he can draw on their strength to build up his own. Eventually his feelings of fear and despair fade away, and he makes his choice—to work actively towards the betterment of the world.

Now ask yourself again: How much longer will man’s craving for justice, peace, brotherhood and spiritual renewal go unsatisfied? As long as we choose to let it.

Read some of my previous reflections after the shootings at Virginia Tech or Montreal’s Dawson College.

virginia tech massacre

Virginia Tech Memorial RibbonI didn’t get the chance to post about this earlier, but I figured it would only be fair to post something, particularly as a follow-up to last fall’s post about the Dawson College shooting. I join other Baha’is in America and worldwide in assuring the friends and family of the victims of my heartfelt prayers in this dark and tragic time.

Let it be said that I haven’t watched, heard, or read the last words of the Virginia Tech shooter, diffused throughout the media after the fact (in an action that neighbour James Howden called “the ultimate sell-out” where “…mass murder and mass media join hands and celebrate the power of rage and heartbreak”). I don’t really plan to. Acting out an emotional, mental and spiritual sickness is still acting out, whether it happens in Blacksburg or Montreal, in Columbine or in Taber, Alberta. Oddly enough, in the media fallout from the Virginia Tech massacre, I discovered that one of North America’s first school shootings happened at St. Pius X High School in Ottawa in 1975—weird (although still not surprising) to know that such things have happened so close to home.

Why do we rush to blame someone else when things go horribly wrong? In the case of a school shooting like this one, emotions run high and blame shifts from target to target in rapid succession—the perpetrator, his parents, the educational system that brought him up, the laws of the land, the government, the church, God—et cetera. I confess to being a victim of such blame-gaming myself; it’s like a ritual we’re all trapped in, and it never goes anywhere. You just know that despite all the blaming, despite all the public displays of anger and grief, despite tougher gun laws and stricter regulations, there’ll be another shooting next year. Because that’s where we’re at now—that’s what we’re trapped in. Continue reading

dawson college shooting

Sign for Dawson College Students by spotmenow (cc)at this point, few details about the recent shooting at Dawson College in Montreal have been released. someone, apparently a 25-year-old white male armed with a machine gun, approached the front steps of the College and began shootingindiscriminately, it appears. the shooter entered the college, moved through the atrium, and into the cafeteria. eyewitnesses have been telling their stories; so far, at least one of them has blogged what he saw while the shooting was taking place.

You can follow the story by checking with CBC / Radio-Canada. The French content is being updated quicker than the English in this case, so I recommend Radio-Canada for best results. See their in-depth coverage. 20 people were reported injured. As of midnight, two deaths were confirmed; the shooter as well as an 18-year-old woman.

Once I began to read about the story I just got so sad, angry, incensed. I suppose it hit home because I have connections to Montreal; I was born there, I’ve spent some time there, and I have friends there. But it affects me on a human level as well, and it frustrates me to see people flip out like the Dawson College shooter did. Weirdly, I feel like I can empathize with everybody in this story—the victims who had to endure this horribly traumatic experience; the families who were worried to death that something terrible had happened to someone dear to them; and yes, even the shooter, who appeared (from what little we know) to have been so badly traumatized, wounded or deprived during his life that he decided to inflict his pain on others. It makes me angry both that someone would choose to do such a callous, atrocious, cruel and senseless thing, and that the family, the community, the society and the world he lived in seems to have been so unable to provide the support, the fellowship, and the education he may have needed to learn how to live and act in accordance with his own nobility as a human being and to reflect divine qualities and attributes, rather than abasing and degrading himself with conduct that not even animals would engage in.

Sorry. I don’t make a habit of posting rants. Prayers are in order for all those involved—prayers for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. Also, prayers for unity are in order. I feel that one of the most fundamental reasons why tragedies like this happen is lack of unity. we all know the world is in trouble and needs help, but it seems like nobody can—or will—agree on what to do about it. as long as we come to the discussion table with our hidden agendas and vested interests, as long as we fight each other trying to prove each other wrong instead of working together to investigate and understand the truth, as long as we mistrust one another and set ourselves apart from others, tragedy upon tragedy will keep dogging us like the waves of a slowly rising sea. without unity, no social progress is possible; the longer we quibble, the more people will hurt.

Ninety-four years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in North America and paid a visit to Montreal, staying in a home not very far from the place where Dawson College stands today. Here’s one of the things he said while he was here:

“…the oneness of the world of humanity shall be realized, accepted and established. When we reflect upon this blessed principle, it will become evident and manifest that it is the healing remedy for all human conditions.” (source)
dawson college shooting