The other day I got the privilege of facilitating a woman doing The Work on a very stressful and traumatic situation.
Even though she hadn’t actually been in the war.
Just hearing about it was horrible.
The grisly details. The destruction. The horror.
She said she felt so against hearing about it, how awful, how despairing.
The first time I encountered this kind of shock was when I read Anne Frank’s story Diary of a Young Girl.
I was only ten.
It was horrifyingly fascinating to learn that an entire culture, somewhere in time, had been against whole groups of people and that these people would have to fear for their lives, hide from the ones who would kill or destroy them.
How strange humanity is.
And yet, even when you are ten years old, you get it somehow. You might want to know more. You understand, there’s a full range of being in this world, from more enlightened to very dog-eat-dog.
What’s going on?
Why do people act violently?
Why would anyone want to destroy whole races of other people, or kill, or hit, or rage, or dominate others?
When I was 15 years old, my parents took our whole family out to dinner at one of my dad’s favorite restaurants, a hole in the wall authentic restaurant in China Town in Seattle.
Most of the patrons were Chinese, and there wasn’t much English spoken unless it was with very thick Chinese accents.
Our whole family went out to dinner, all four girls and both my parents, maybe once a year.
This was a big deal.
“We have an announcement to make” said my mom, with my dad nodding in agreement.
“We’re moving to South Africa, for a whole year.”
My three sisters and I looked at them blankly.
What’s South Africa?
I asked a friend at school the next Monday.
He immediately gasped.
“You’re going to the most horrible place ever. There’s this thing called apartheid. They have laws where white people like you have all the privilege and can go anywhere and do anything they want, and mixed people like me are called ‘coloreds’ and aren’t allowed to do certain things.”
I was so embarrassed.
My high school was 65% black kids, and the minute I heard this news, I didn’t talk about it for one more second.
Why would a whole country do something like that?
Why would my parents take us there?
I was furious.
But we went. (Funny, my opinion didn’t seem to change my parents’ minds).
During my very first week of school in South Africa (all white girls) a group of girls were standing in a circle between classes. Everyone wore navy blue uniforms, with navy blue skirts and navy blue sweaters, and black Mary Jane shoes with white bobby socks. Some girls had on their navy blue school blazers, with the pocket inscribed “VHS” Victoria High School for Girls. I wore the same outfit.
They were fascinated with me, my life, what was American high school like, what was on TV, what did it look like, how did I live?
I could hardly understand the accents and had to ask all the girls leaning in to repeat themselves for almost everything they said.
They crowded close, all listening with baited breath.
Then one girl asked me….
….what are black people like in America?
I crossed my arms across my body and my eyes got narrow.
“It’s nothing like here, that’s for sure.” I could feel my anger and embarrassment rise, thinking of my friend at home speaking about this word I had never heard before called “apartheid” and feeling frightened.
“In America, it’s totally equal amongst races. It’s not like this. My school has more black kids than white.”
There was a pause.
A girl in the crowd piped up with her thick South African accent.
“But….when I went on a summer exchange program last year, to Little Rock, Arkansas, the neighborhood I lived in was all white, the pool I swam in was all white, and all the employees at the pool were all black. And by the way, it was only 15 years ago that the blacks got the vote in the United States, that’s not all that long really.”
My face turned red. I was speechless.
I marched home at lunch time (the custom was to take a long lunch mid day) and found both parents there, sitting at our table for the midday meal.
I explained that a girl in my class just told me black people in the United States didn’t get to vote until only 15 years ago. I said that can’t possibly be real.
“IS THAT TRUE???!!!!” I cried.
Yes, my parents said.
I was overcome with grief.
If it wasn’t embarrassing enough for me to be going to live in such a place for a year, criticized by my peers, I now find out that in my righteousness about how much better my country was…..
Although I didn’t have The Work then, this beautiful form of self-inquiry, I could still see that I had believed I was from the “good” country, the “better” place, the one doing things right.
And it wasn’t true.
I was from the same kind of country, I was part of humanity where people shun others, fear others, fight others.
Right in that moment of believing I was the genius from America.
I couldn’t help then but to see….
….Everyone is the same.
We are all doing the very best we can.
If we knew any better, we would do it the better way.
Who would you be without the belief that those people fighting wars, doing atrocious things, hitting other people, taking prisoners, enacting violence, killing, hurting others….
….who would you be without the belief that you are outside, different, and Not Them?
You might be like the woman I was facilitating, when we got to this question and could look in depth, without being entirely against this terrible war scene she had heard about.
With compassion, grief, and love for all humanity.
For all the imperfect and ridiculous ways people act sometimes (including yourself).
Realizing we are all in this together, all humans, trying to do the best we can.
“As soon as you stop arguing with what is, you are vast. Simply because you are not arguing with what is. Because you have taken the position of reality….So when you take the position of reality, then you’re letting experience do what experience does.” ~ Adyashanti
Reality appears to let you be the way you are, those other groups of people to be the way they are, this country to have had the history the way it has, that other country to have the history it has had, wars to happen, peace to happen, grief to happen, joy to happen, prejudice to happen, fear to happen, awareness to happen.
Realization to happen.