I was having a conversation the other day with someone. It went like this:
Someone: “I’m really upset about what’s happening in the world out there. It’s such a mess. There’s so much hate and violence that’s being stirred up because Trump won.”
Me: “What is personally bothering you the most right now?”
Someone: “I just can’t stand that we elected Trump. I hate him. He’s so misogynistic, greedy and disgusting. He’s just evil.”
I had to laugh at the irony. This person represents how many people feel these days. So many are sick of the hatred and violence that’s out there in the world, yet are blind to their own hatred.
What I didn’t say then that maybe I should have was this: “Perhaps if we all took a look at the hatred and fear we have within ourselves and towards ourselves, then we really could change the world. It’s easy to blame others and project what’s within us outside of ourselves. The real work and true transformation comes from looking within.”
I remember when I was working through this myself. It was 2007, and the effects of September 11th 2001 were as alive as ever.
That day and the period after that were very important for me, but it wasn’t until later that I realized why.
It put front and center in my life the issue of good and evil. As an 18 year old girl, I watched these events and wondered why they were happening. At the time, I couldn’t understand them so I did the only thing I could do—I neatly filed these terrorists under the slot in my mind labeled “evil” and left them there.
It felt resolved. I walked away from this compartmentalisation feeling secure within myself, knowing that I was good and they were bad. I decided that evil existed in the world and it was something to be feared, resisted and fought against. More importantly, it wasn’t me. I was not evil. Problem solved.
In 2007, something prompted me to open up these files and look at them again. I felt drawn to read the book The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright.
I couldn’t put the book down. I was amazed at the personal stories of the terrorists, especially Bin Laden himself. I read about his difficult childhood growing up in a poor country with enormous economic hardships and challenges. He actually didn’t seem too different from me.
I put myself in his shoes and wondered: if presented with the same challenges, would I respond the same way?
I realized that maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter. My categories of good versus evil were slowly crumbling—becoming less black and white. Maybe what I previously thought was evil is a person experiencing deep pain and fear and responding to and acting out of that pain and fear.
After that book, I couldn’t look at the world the same way again. Whenever I saw someone expressing hatred, I looked for what was underneath. I always saw a wounded person and I always saw fear. I then looked at my own life, and at the people I hated. I saw for the first time that the way they were acting was only their own wounds that they were trying to resolve.
After seeing this, I couldn’t unsee it. There was no more good and evil for me—it was all expressions of pain and fear.
Somewhere in those realizations, I forgave those terrorists. I understood that they were responding to their own pain and fear and that I am, at my core, no different than they are. I am also a person living in the world, acting and responding to my pain and fear. I just made different choices.
Later, I turned even further inward and looked at all the ways that I hated myself.
This was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I faced all the parts of myself that I had previously judged as bad or evil. In looking at them honestly, they began to morph—not so black and white anymore.
Looking at the hatred you have for yourself takes the ultimate courage and the ultimate compassion. Forgiving someone else is easy. Forgiving yourself is the hardest thing you will ever do.
If you are indeed truly, truly tired of the hatred in this world, then look in the mirror. Stop trying to fight it because it will never work—protests and aggression will never bring about the transformative change you are looking for. Look underneath the hatred you see out there and see what you find. Perhaps you will find a person just like yourself. Perhaps you will see your own pain and fear reflected in another’s eyes. Maybe you will see that we all have the same potentials for violence and darkness.
Maybe, just maybe, you can begin the process of forgiving others and then, more importantly, forgiving yourself.
Author: Lindsay O’Brien
Editor: Erin Lawson