Last week, a 24-year old, whose deranged motives are still unknown, killed 12 people and wounded 58 more. Truly, a horrific tragedy that naturally and appropriately breaks our hearts wide open. The most common response to last week’s shootings in Colorado has been compassion and prayers for all those impacted by the massacre. Even removed by great distances, we feel sorrow and shock when tragedy strikes people we have never met.
What I’m curious about is what moves us to compassion and what doesn’t. The terrible violence in Aurora, Colorado pales in comparison to what people around the world experience on a daily basis. From Afghanistan to Mexico, from the Northern Caucasus to Sudan, each day brings new losses and grief. The violence in Syria has claimed over 19,000 lives including 2,752 in July alone (as of this past Sunday). Of those 2,752 killings, 1,933 were civilians. Or said another way, the average daily death toll is 131 people, and the overwhelming majority are civilians.
I realize that much violence occurring around the world stems from broad political, religious and economic roots and that what happened in Colorado was an isolated act perpetrated by a crazed science student. But are they really that different? Is verbal or physical violence in the name of one’s religion any less crazy? Is there anything sane about “preemptive wars” that create more enemies than they eliminate? Is it not equally mad when economic policies make the desperate poor even poorer so that a privileged few can live more comfortably?
The path to sanity requires that we take responsibility for starting to move the human race from fear-based violence to hope-based interaction. We, imperfectly and progressively, can move from a narrow, biologically-imbedded focus on “me, myself and I” to a primary concern for the interconnected, highest good of all. We can choose to be more than we have been. Why? Not only because it’s our best hope of survival, but also because it’s the compelling pull of evolution.
It’s also the compelling pull of the spiritual path. When asked “who is my neighbor?”, that is, who counts as someone I should care about, Jesus told the story of a Samaritan, a despised foreigner, who took care of an injured Jew. You can substitute any individuals or groups at odds with each other, and the meaning is clear: no one is to be excluded from your concern.
What if we had as much compassion, prayer and outpouring of support for people in Syria and Sudan as we do for people in Colorado? Cultivating a more expansive concern for “my neighbor” awakens a felt connection like the world briefly experienced after 9/11 or like that experienced between a wounded Jew and a kind Samaritan.
I don’t know how many future killings could be prevented by expanding our understanding of who counts as a neighbor. Perhaps in a world where more of us became our brother’s keeper, caring intervention might reach a troubled young man before it’s too late. I don’t know. What I do know is that until we open our hearts to a wider segment of humanity, nothing will change.
We can choose to be “like-hearted” even when we are not like-minded. When frightened or frustrated, instead of reaching for a gun we can reach for a sacred text, a deeper understanding, our highest aspirations, or another hand extended in potential friendship.
It’s not magic. It’s not impossible. It’s a choice. A daily choice.