Healing Hatred with Compassion

When my Monday group met after the Orlando massacre, I read Thich Nhat Hahn’s poem about holding his face in his two hands to keep his soul from leaving him in anger.  Several people noted the hatred that must have motivated the shooting and how twisted the shooter must have been.  Then one woman spoke very movingly about compassion, and how she preferred to feel compassion toward the shooter than anger or hatred.

She said that compassion felt better than rage or hate.  Its lingering effects were so much easier to live with.  Anger and hate leave the heart contracted and lean future thinking toward quick condemnation of others.  Compassion opens space for considering the suffering of others: what awful emotions must torment a person for him to do such a thing. 

The moment we open our thoughts to compassion, the heart relaxes and we sigh in relief at letting go of the feelings and thoughts that can keep a cycle of anger and retribution going.  That woman was not suggesting that such a crime be forgiven.  She reminded us, instead, of the healing power of compassion for us.  

This attack on the GLBTQ community hit me and my wife personally.  It made me feel that the past four decades of working so hard for equality and safety had vanished in the Orlando attack.   But a man in the group spoke about the 1976 arson in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 30 people, and how survivors were fired from their jobs while still in hospital burn wards, and churches refused to hold funerals for the dead.  Then he invoked the image of lines stretching for blocks in Orlando with people waiting for up to 8 hours to give blood.  Their compassion and generosity brings tears to my eyes every time I remember it.

Love does triumph over hate.   The GLBTQ community has worked tirelessly to open hearts and minds to this truth.  And together we have triumphed.  There will always be outliers, people whose culture or bad fortune bang and warp them into dangerous individuals.  Those influenced by traditions that elevate the notion of sin over forgiveness are especially vulnerable to such forces. 

It is so tempting to loathe the judgmental.   With all the hateful bloodshed of this past week, in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, it would be hard to identify any one place to aim our anger.  It is better to guard our hearts from the corrosive power of hate, or we could become like those we despise.  This can be hard to do in the shock that follows horrific massacres.  It may feel more natural to scream in rage than to meditate.  With a calm mind and an open heart, though, we will be far more effective in healing the core causes of hateful acts.

As it says in the Dhammapada, “Hate can’t be dispelled by hate, but only by love.  This is an ancient and immutable law.”

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