February 1, 2022

Canada’s Freedom Convoy 2022: It’s time to apply Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings.

In true Canadian spirit, I feel compelled to apologize to Mother Earth for our recent CO2 emissions.

Whether you’re for or against the “2022 Freedom Convoy,” we’re all aware of our Mother’s suffering. Individuals, governments, and corporations each have a moral obligation to reduce that suffering. I am sorry, Mother Earth—our humanness is often blinding.

The recent trucker convoy began as an act of civil disobedience in protest against government-mandated vaccines. Tens of thousands gathered across the country to protest what they viewed as government overreach in a variety of forms. An equal number cringed at the movement. Personally, a few cringe-worthy moments included protesters appropriating the Terry Fox memorial statue in Ottawa and another when Trump made a comment (sorry, America).

We all cried for different reasons.

Tears of joy for watching isolated people come together—children and families supporting each other at -20 C below zero and shivering with their hockey sticks and Tim Hortons cups.

Tears of sadness for our disempowered heroes—such as healthcare workers who felt we don’t care about them or their health.

Tears of frustration toward the media and government for cherry-picking facts to fit their narrative.

Tears of rage toward protesters who flew confederate flags on the backs of pick-up trucks.

As the movement progressed, I was reminded of a passage I read in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Being Peace:

“The situation of the world is like this. People identify completely with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of a citizen of another country, we have to become one with him. To do so is dangerous—we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don’t do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for Peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for Peace.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, p. 73

This passage describes the need to understand both sides in working toward resolution. Written during the Vietnam War, his words remain relevant today. Truly understanding conflicting sides of a social issue is incredibly difficult. Those who do understand the opposing side risk being labelled enemy and ostracized. So many of us remain quiet, concealing our empathy to avoid exile.

We’re afraid.

These are challenging times. People are afraid. Our lives can be changed in an instant. We’re terrified of losing someone we love or catching the virus.  We’re afraid to send our children to school or unknowingly transmit to someone vulnerable.

We’re afraid to see our own biases, but we criticize the biases of others. We’re afraid to admit no one has this figured out. We’re afraid mainstream media doesn’t always tell the truth. We read inflammatory headlines and descend into our individualized trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn).

Understanding both sides.

We become angry and our views solidify when we feel our survival is put at risk. We spiral into a hate-storm of I’m right, you’re wrong and nobody sees beyond their own position. What the world needs now is empathy. We need to be willing and able to understand other people’s perspectives to respond effectively to their concerns. We need to stop shaming and blaming for our suffering and start sympathizing and validating for the suffering of others. That is the power of understanding. That is the power of empathy. That is the power of change.

We’re all afraid. We’re scared for similar and different reasons. We do share the common ground that all of our responses are grounded in survival. As humans, we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity, especially when survival is at stake. We forget that those who oppose mandates are afraid too. We forget people have valid concerns surrounding vaccine hesitancy or what the media tells them. We overlook how difficult it is for human beings to make sense of this overstimulating world with headlines encouraging us to hate our neighbours. We forget people are afraid to voice concerns out of fear of being categorized into undesirable groups that further divide us.

We can be double vaccinated, follow all of the rules, care about social justice issues, be a “liberal,” not want to contract or transmit Covid (like me), and still have empathy for the subjective experiences of others. People—real people, many of whom are vaccinated—have consistently been failed by their government and lied to by the media. For me, understanding these concerns is what having empathy for people in this movement is all about.

Today, and especially throughout the pandemic, increased global uncertainty has cultivated seeds of division and hate. These seeds will germinate into weeds if we continue to reap division through labelling, shaming, and blaming. We need to see our common ground.

Thich Nhat Hanh taught of the ultimate common ground—how suffering applies everywhere. He guided us to contemplate our interconnectedness, engage in compassionate resistance, practice non-judgment, and lead with an open heart.

“Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as a guiding means that help us learn to look deeply and develop understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic or discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and the world.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever—such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination—to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

My hope is that we can learn to be mindful of language and how things are framed. That we can have the courage to look beyond our biases, see all sides, and create change through unity. At the core of our basic humanness, we are all the same. It is only through loving-kindness and compassion that we can truly hear one another and move forward in this messy, beautiful world.


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