Us versus Them

Humans are a gullible lot. Since we were little, we’ve believed almost everything told to us by our parents, our school teachers, the clergy, our friends and almost anyone else that assumed authority. Now we’re being challenged to rethink our priorities and discard outdated beliefs.

The Internet is the ultimate metaphor of our times. Its billions of pages, raging from slime to sublime, can be searched and retrieved in a matter of seconds, providing virtually instant access to a wealth of information that would have been incomprehensible just a few years ago. Anyone with the desire to do so can launch a site or post a blog, an article, or a comment on the worldwide web. This is a wonderful thing, but it comes at a price. Unlike with a peer review journal, there’s no screening mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff; it’s left to the discernment of the reader to decide.

Based on the number of clunkers that enter the viral stream of forwarded emails, I’d say the willingness of the average Internet user to consider the ramifications of a message before forwarding it is somewhat suspect. Or perhaps the Internet is just making it more evident that some people are ridiculously gullible when it comes to flag-waving messages couched in the philosophy of justifying almost action.

Yesterday a good friend received such a message, passed on to him from his 86-year-old aunt in Mississippi, and he sent it on to me for comment. It was purportedly from a former high-ranking U.S. military officer and presented a litany of reasons why America needs to obliterate all the Muslims before they nuke us. Being a compassionate, thinking, and caring man, my friend went to great lengths to respond to his aunt, rebutting several misconceptions about the origins and purpose of the war in Iraq. He spoke of the divisiveness here in the USA spawned by the war and the fact that others throughout the world now view America with grave concern and apprehension. He also pointed out that no brush should be so wide as to paint all Muslims as terrorists; in fact, it is mostly their fellow followers of Islam, not we infidels, who die at the hand of the extremists.

I suspect he spoke for many of us when he wrote to me: “I still feel sad that there are so many people who just don’t get it. Everything is black and white, us versus them, divide and conquer. It really wears on me, and I can’t seem to escape it. Yet not responding to anything feels so empty, and lonely.”

His comment reminded me of how easily we politicize tragedy, of how we let ourselves become desensitized to the escalating death toll on both sides, and of how such rancor insidiously leads humankind further and further from the unity we’re all meant to be seeking. I thought about all the folk who, like my friend, want to put an end to all this insanity so we can get on with the important business of loving each other.

As I reread his words a certain memory flooded my consciousness. Years ago I began a practice of feeding the wild birds hung out near my home. At that time I lived near a pond that was domicile to a number of ducks that regularly came to the feast. I always marveled at the fact that they elected to walk (or more accurately, waddle in a most ungainly manner) the forty yards from the pond rather than fly. Maybe it helped them work up an appetite? One particular Sunday morning in April as I watched them making their way, I wondered if the fact that it was a Sunday made any difference to them. We had become friends by then, so it didn’t feel like too much of an imposition to ask.

I remember their answer now as clearly as the day I first heard it: Quack.

I think often about the uncommon wisdom they shared with me. I worked out its meaning: that no matter the question, the overriding factor is the perspective from which it is asked and heard. Being a human, I was caught up in the significance of abstract thought; the ducks were concerned only about food. It made me realize that areas of interest or concern figure in number and importance according to the point from which we view. Compared to a human, I would imagine that for a duck the number of interests is quite modest. Those revolving around safety, shelter, procreation, and, of course, food are at the top of the heap. The rest – those weighty issues that we deem so important – are totally irrelevant. There may be an important lesson here.

Perhaps all the issues of conflict that breed fear and divisiveness which continually demand our attention in the media are insidious traps that keep us from focusing on the real issues that face us all – concerns so great that concepts such as Muslim vs. Christian, conservative vs. liberal, gay vs. straight, animal activist vs. poacher melt into puddles of insignificance. If we would only take a moment to step back, we might notice that our entire ecosystem is on the brink of collapse, and that despite all the impressive technological advances, humanity is becoming increasingly edgy about its own existence. We might read between the lines and wonder about the escalating panic underlying the rhetoric coming from world leaders, or about the fact that diplomacy no longer appears to be a viable solution to anything beyond the perpetuation of bureaucracy. We might ask ourselves whether something larger – something we have yet to perceive – might be underlying our collective malaise.

If I were to offer advice (which I do only with the greatest reluctance), it would come from the duck pond and it would be to pick our battles with the utmost care. The vast majority, despite the genuine pain and suffering they embody, are little more than symptoms arising from a much deeper condition. They need our concern and palliative care but should not deflect us from the real issue at hand.

We have only two authentic assets at our disposal: our attention and intention. Here I would counsel (once more with supreme hesitation) keen vigilance, for where we place our attention, there we are also. When we focus on fear, ignorance, and negativity – regardless of the loftiness of our motives – we will surely find them our constant companions on the journey. When we focus on love, harmony, and gratitude, our path widens before us and the wind is ever at our back. We evoke our own reality through our attention. How we invest that precious asset is truly the measure of our lives.

When we add in the element of focused intention, we get manifestation: A + I = M. It’s that simple, and it works invariably. The reasons why everything we intend and attend to does not manifest are only two in number: One is our inability to focus attention on anything for more than a few seconds at a time. The other is our inability to hold intention without an equally powerful counter-intention pulling the result in another direction. Those opposing intents arise from the many subpersonalities we’ve developed over the years. They need to be met, listened to, and ultimately embraced. Until we make peace with these, there is little hope of our becoming effective agents of peace in the world. This is probably a good thing, since wielding the powerful formula of A + I = M from the perspective of the ego-riddled “little me,” who can only perceive lack and the need to fix things, is like using the creative powers of the God part of you to win the lottery.

The problems that currently besiege humanity are unarguably immense. Yet there is nothing out there that is not a product of our own creation. Perhaps it would serve us all better to understand who we really are in the grander scheme of things, then elevate our consciousness sufficiently to clean up the mess our collective selves have made. Enough flag waving, enough saber rattling, enough praying to others for outcomes that can only come from within us. Each of us is a master of the game, and it is time we assumed our rightful role in it.

Now if we could only remember what that game is supposed to be all about. . . .

Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.

©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.


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