Once again there is war in the holy land. Listen to the language, the words infused with hate. There is an old Jewish saying: “People plan and God laughs.” Perhaps there is a similar saying in Islam. The message is that we can never assume we know the outcome of something. But the phrase God laughs strikes me. Sometimes I try to picture God laughing. If God does have emotions, what is she or he feeling now? Is this God’s war? Certainly not. It is a war of people who feel out of control. People who are filled with terror and desperation.
Hatred demands constant attention. Hatred also impairs judgment and affects one’s vision. People who hate eventually see in the enemy only evil, no humanity. When people hate, eventually the battle is about the hatred. Hatred can cause us to be blind to what we are doing and why we are doing it. It is easy to hate and it is hard to stop hating. And we know hatred is contagious. When hatred grows to group hatred – we all know what happens then.
Shortly after Sept. 11, I spoke to a 17-year-old Muslim girl in Philadelphia and asked her if she had experienced any discrimination since the terrorist attacks. She said: “Only once. I was on the subway platform and I saw a woman staring at me with hatred in her eyes.” At first this young lady seemed fairly casual about the incident, but when I asked her what she had felt at that moment, she began to cry: “I felt as though her evil stares were going right into my heart and hurting me.”
I wondered, too, what was happening in the heart of the woman who was hating.
We have all experienced hatred. It usually happens after we have felt victimized by someone or something. And when we express our hatred, we in turn hurt others. When we hate, it is easy to hurt.
When I work with couples, both usually begin the process being quite clear about their victimhood – they are able to say how they have been their partner’s victim, and why. They recite and repeat their injuries in great detail. It’s pretty natural. And then they use that to justify their rage, hatred or righteous indignation. It is much harder for them to see themselves as perpetrators – people who cause serious injury to a fellow human being.
Things do not begin to change until people finally understand not only that they are capable of harming others but that they have actually done so. Beyond the guilt and regret, they frequently feel great sadness – and grief. It is almost as though they are mourning the death of the illusion of innocence, or of goodness. It is hard to see ourselves as perpetrators. That’s why we work so hard to find evil in others – so we can express our hatred and not see ourselves as hateful.
The truth is: We hurt people. They hurt people. In families, in communities and maybe in the world, real peace will come when we can grieve one another’s losses and understand how deeply we have hurt others. To some extent this is what has happened in Germany in recent years. As a people, they experienced palpable grief and regret for the killing of millions more than a half-century before.
According to a Buddhist story, a monk was held up at knifepoint one evening in New York. His life was threatened and his valuables taken. The monk was frightened, then angry, and then he wished revenge. As he walked home, more emotions cascaded over him. By the time he arrived at his monastery, he was weeping. A fellow monk, upon learning what had happened, asked why he was weeping. “I am weeping,” the monk replied, “because I realized that if I had been born in that man’s life and lived his circumstances, I would have been the one with the knife. I weep for his suffering.”
With the holy land at risk of destruction, I pray for the emergence of someone with both power and wisdom. Someone with the compassion to care and the courage to be humble. And I pray for the hatred to give way to the profound grief that I know is waiting to erupt, and then to heal.
Maybe we should have a new saying: “People hate and God weeps.”