May 10, 2011

Examining Our Identity in a Post-Bin Laden World. ~ Marthe Weyandt

The Path is Not Straight

Photo: Josh Pesavento

Many of us on the East Coast heard the news late last Sunday night. Osama bin Laden, arch-terrorist extraordinaire, had been killed by a team of Navy Seals in a raid on his compound in Pakistan.

And there was much rejoicing.

In a matter of minutes, parts of New York City, Washington DC and other areas erupted into celebration. Shouts of “USA, USA, USA” thundered across our television screens – with its helmsman defeated, a symbolic victory against al-Qaeda and chaotic forces of war and terrorism. At long last, thousands of grieving families could have closure.

In the last week, there has been much debate, especially in the alternative media, concerning how one must ‘properly’ react to Osama bin Laden’s death.

Photo: Josh Pesavento

Isn’t it rational to feel joyful? Exuberant that this source of so much unmitigated evil has finally been eliminated from our earth? Bin Laden had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans, including many brave servicemen and servicewomen. He has sullied the reputation of Islam as a peaceful, life-affirming religion and led many Afghan youths to violent deaths. If turnabout is fair play, then maybe Osama should be forced to jump from a burning skyscraper?

On the other hand, do the quiet words of Mahatma Gandhi also provide inspiration in this uncertain time? Does an “eye for an eye” leave the world blind? Is Bin Laden’s assassination more appropriately met with a sense of quiet reflection? Is it wrong to be ‘out for blood’ beyond that which is necessary to protect our national security?

Still, perhaps there is no ‘proper’ way to react to an event of such magnitude. To tell others how they should feel reminds me of certain people in yoga class who take great self-satisfaction in their abilities to hold certain advanced poses or sit in meditation for long periods of time. These people are concerned with being perceived as more ‘blissful’ than others. They wish to make a contest of who has the least ego, as if ego can be quantifiably measured, like a cup of flour or a teaspoon of salt. We all know the type. And there is one word to describe them, after ‘self-righteous’. Ugh.

Is inauthenticity the desire to cover up the good, the bad and the ugly that makes us human? Still constantly glancing at the mirror to see who can hold some difficult asana the longest – therefore, the greatest obstacle?

Photo: Josh Pesavento

Beyond a tragic loss of life, loss of property and damage to the economy, the psychological impact of 9/11 was immeasurable.

Bin Laden is gone.

At this crucial juncture in history, we must continue with the healing process.

What I do know: our process of national healing will depend on the degree to which we are able to engage in an honest and frank discussion of how human beings relate to each other.

How do we nurture our fragile selves amidst this chaos? How do we begin to heal, as a people, and implement foreign policy which will serve to keep us safer in the future?

It is important to examine the conflicting views on natural law, as explained through the views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

According to Hobbes, we live in a dog-eat-dog world. Those endowed with power will take advantage of the weak. Life requires constant vigilance. According to Locke, human beings are mostly good, capable of respecting other people and  personal property, insofar as they are given a system of reward and punishment. Much of the adversity and animosity about the human condition, according to Locke, is brought about by misperception and miscommunication.

This can be illustrated through the Vedic concept of maya, or illusion.

Photo: Paul Stein

Imagine, for example, you are standing next to a body of water, perhaps swimming, boating, fishing or relaxing. The waters are completely still – clear, unmuddled, easily navigable. These still waters represent the ideal state of human consciousness.

However, the veil of ego is ever-present in our existence. Ego enters when we believe we are correct. We may become entitled, haughty or refuse to acknowledge our interdependence with others. Maya, or illusion, blows across the landscape of our consciousness like wind, sometimes soft, sometimes gale force. When this happens, the water becomes rough, choppy, broken. We no longer have an accurate picture of the reality of all things. For most of us, this is a very common occurrence. I have spent much of my life standing astride a stormy sea.

How, then, can we move forward from both a psychological and policy perspective now that we are in a post-Osama Bin Laden War on Terror?

Photo: Karl P.

First, we must bolster our national security apparatus, but also acknowledge that the ‘me, me, me’ mentality of many Americans draws criticism for a reason. We must reduce our dependence on gas-guzzling cars and electricity. We must treat the developing world with respect, lobbying our government to implement more than just economicand trade policies. To have been born an American, with access to so many opportunities is an amazing birthright, but with rights come responsibilities.

Second, it is important to stop judging – both our own reactions and the reactions of others.

We must experience, fully, whatever emotions come to pass. Whether excitement, relief, anger, brooding. The winds of maya are part of the human experience. Eventually the tumult will lessen in force, but we must first experience it. Just because we experience something does not mean we will become that which we experience. Likewise, we do not always have to act upon our emotions. And, for the sake of our highest selves, we will eventually need to let them go.

As Frederich Nietzsche stated, “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Fight fire with fire, ignorance with ignorance and we will be consumed by fire and by ignorance. This is a never-ending cycle, as old as the trees and the moon and the stars. And, if history is any indication, left unchecked, it will most certainly devour us. We must explain to our children that this celebration of violence on our television screen is coming from people who are emotional and vulnerable, lest they grow up believing what they see in violent video games and tv shows. Sometimes, in our modern society, the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. Life isn’t World of Warcraft.


Marthe Weyandt is a Pittsburgh-based yoga instructor and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling and spending time in the great outdoors. She is currently learning to play guitar, albeit badly and at frequencies only dogs can hear. She believes in the power of the word, creatively and lovingly rendered, to create positive change in the world. She has a Bachelor’s in English and Religion from Dickinson College and a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. She spent two years as an English instructor with the United States Peace Corps in Madagascar. Check out some of her other work at shazaamazoid.blogspot.com.

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