It’s a shame our hearts are not more open.
Taking a step back, the act of hypocrisy tends to contain some guilt or self-consciousness. That automatically involves some heart, some perspective, some awareness of the way things mirror each other. That’s all very general, though. These ideas took root recently, when I heard about the school shooting in Connecticut, and as I observed my reactions and those of the people around me.
I heard about it, probably the way a lot of people did, on the radio as I was driving around. At that point, I was surprised, and felt a faint sadness. I noticed, too, how the news media was going into a frenzy and how off-putting this was; of course, in this case it was impossible to separate the importance of this story from the need the media has to portray shocking and sad stories in order to improve ratings. This was a terrible event, and the sadness of the killings seemed disrespected by the frenzy itself. If only there could have been total silence for an hour on all media sources. That seems like it would have been more appropriate.
The idea of appropriateness is really, really interesting. Going home, the sadness (and at this point, I still did not feel much except some surprise, maybe some confusion) was there, and I logged on to Facebook. I do this many times a day.
I realize talking about my experience of the event and my emotions could seem very self-centered. I’m doing this, in part, because I think it’s significant and not entirely personal. So, I got on Facebook, and most posts were about the shooting. Some people were just shocked, and some were very angry and outraged. My friends on FB tend to be very liberal, so there was a lot about gun control and improving mental health care. I’m pretty liberal myself, so I didn’t completely disagree.
What struck me—and at some point, I did start to feel something (not just a faint sadness, but something more, as I tried to imagine what it would be like to actually experience this first-hand)—was the hypocrisy. That is, when you talk to people, in person or online, most don’t feel as sad about this kind of death as they think they should. We have an idea that we should be heartbroken. We don’t know what to say. A lot of times, we write things that make it seem as if we feel more than we do, or are more compassionate than we are.
I feel this way myself. I am part of that hypocrisy, too. I think that’s something. If we are interested in developing compassion, that involves seeing where we’re numb, where we don’t feel. I think this has a lot to do with that moment of initial confusion. Something terrible happened. It didn’t seem right to post pictures of a recent meal, or the kids, or something funny about a TV show. But there was the impulse to say something. A lot of people, myself included, said things that made it seem as if our hearts were more open than they really were.
Of course, that’s a shame. It’s a shame our hearts are not more open. It’s a shame we didn’t cry enough. I have not cried. At the same time, we feel self-conscious about that numbness and that hypocrisy, and that’s a good thing. It’s worth remembering over and over. Something sad will happen again, and I think next time it would be good if my heart was a little less frozen. Feeling that frozenness is a reminder.
These things are happening all the time. I imagine that if my heart opens more, I’ll experience more of this confusion and sadness. Violence and aggression happen all the time, and that means I’m shutting them out and ignoring them all the time.
It’s important, though, in my experience, not to jump ahead to the result. I don’t know what compassion and love will feel like necessarily. To imagine a compassionate result and then get annoyed when my heart and mind don’t measure up is usually a mistake. The difference is between doing the usual, routine thing, and keeping an open heart when awful things take place.
I haven’t touched on practical solutions to violence or policy changes in the U.S. Here are a few very general thoughts.
There is probably some connection between seeing our own hypocrisy, and working with the heart and aggression. Violence is an expression of aggression. There is also a tremendous amount of aggression in the way people talk about policy solutions. Yes, the solutions, like gun control, are very well-intended, but there is something fishy about an aggressive solution to aggression.
At the same time, the solutions seem partisan. What is so crazy about finding some creative ideas? What’s so crazy about considering that the “other guys” might be right, at least partially? Although political intentions are good much of the time, it’s easy to forget that the debate itself, and the process itself, becomes violent in its own way, and that can’t be a good thing.
Jake Karlins lives in an old barn in Newbury, Mass., with his wife. He works as a baker, and occasionally teaches meditation and the dharma. Jake has written two e-books recently, one of short stories, and another of Buddhist teachings, called “River of Gold.” Have a look at his blog, barnmeditation.wordpress.com.
Editor: Thandiwe Ogbonna