Are we more mature and enlightened than we were in primary school? Have things changed on the playground or are they the same, just we’re now playing on a bigger, grown-up playground? We had school rivalries that mirror our adult version called, nationalism. We had groups that excluded other groups or thought themselves superior to others. Remember in school we had loners, jocks, geeks, rebels, stoners, brown nosers, suck-ups, class clowns, players, and bullies. Is it really all that different?
Nationalism is a misperception. It is divisive. It is us versus them. It’s the home team versus the away team. My first experience with the dangers of this level of misperception was at a high school football game my freshman year of high school when I was 15 years old. I was in the marching band, and on my way to the locker room, I was jumped by some kids from the “other” school and dragged under the bleechers and beaten. Thank goodness there were no weapons involved, only what felt to be an infinite number of fists pounding me. I was terrified, but hobbled away with only a swollen lip, bruised and swollen eye, broken glasses and bloody knees from being knocked around a bit on the sharp gravel under the bleechers. My brand new clarinet that I’d waited 5 years to get, and my school’s marching band uniform were trashed, and I was beyond sad, and confused.
What I could not understand, and what bothered me most were not my physical injuries, and the loss of my prized instrument, but a deeper emotional wounding and nagging spiritual confusion. Why did they not see that I was just a student like them? We were all in high school, doing the same things, being kids together. I mulled it over endlessly in my mind. I thought about my attackers. Did they struggle in geometry like me? Did they like someone who didn’t like them back? Were their school lunches as horrible as ours? Did they have moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins…just like me? What made me so different just because I went to a different school?
Ever since that confusing attack at age 15, I’ve had an unusual lens when looking at the world. I’ve perceived unusual patterns and parallels all along my path growing-up. If it’s not schools comparing themselves to one another, it’s sport’s teams, countries, ethnic groups, religious groups… in fact, I cannot find where it isn’t going on.
The recent tragedy in Paris, France, is an exquisite example of how we haven’t really changed all that much from grammar school. If any of you have been witness online to the bickering and finger-pointing going on with respect to countries, politics, and all manner of perceived differences between an “us and them,” mental construct, we must give pause to how we are creating more division. This division is precisely why we’re so ineffective in shining a light onto the darkness and eradicating the evil that is operating currently in our world. How can we light the darkness if we are dimming our light through getting stuck in our own shadows?
Everything that is happening globally is a massive scale exaggeration of the exact same misperceptions that occur between people in any relationship. The way we keep an invisible scorecard and meter out how much compassion or forgiveness we are willing to offer based on some invisible level of deservedness and evaluation of past good or bad behavior. This is the kind of thinking that divides a couple as much as it is the mindset that divides nations. The “You did this so I’m not doing that” kind of mentality is the same as we all experienced in grammar school.
To me there is no more dangerous, dark or evil, than misperception. Misperception of who we think we are. When we believe ourselves to be right, to hold so tightly to our thoughts, considering ourselves to be someone else’s judge and jury, we are dangerous. We are dangerous because we harden our hearts, we see only what we believe, and if we believe strongly enough we can not only turn our hearts away from the suffering of another, but we can inflict suffering, and believe ourselves justified. That’s how dangerous believing our thoughts can be. That’s how dangerous it is to become trapped by our mind.
Misperception is a continuum. On one end, the illusion seems fairly harmless, but it’s not. It’s mild enough that it might fly under the radar. At the one end of the misperception continuum it perhaps reveals itself as simply not liking someone because they don’t agree with us. We perceive a division between us and them.
On the far opposite extreme of this Misperception continuum we have fanaticism. Fanaticism is so entangled and ensnared with a mental construct that it merges with the individual to become that. Fanaticism has no room for a shifting opinion or consideration of “other,” because when we are fanatical about anything we are signed, sealed, and delivered to the belief and this belief becomes ultimate truth for us. Something we are willing to die for. Fanaticism is scary because our mind is powerful enough to cause us to self-rationalize any behavior and even memorialize it as for a higher purpose. Add an overlay of religion to that fanaticism and you have a recipe of annihilation for spiritual purposes.
It appears as if we are comfortable with a certain level of misperception but shocked and moved in horror as the level increases above our individual and cultural collective tolerance for acting out on our mental convictions.
Until we are at a place in our evolution as spiritual being first, human being second, we will never really be able to step away from our thinking to see how our mind may not be in alignment with what we know to be true at a much deeper, wiser, level of consciousness. Can we pause and observe how our thoughts lead to knee-jerk reactions, and unexamined beliefs? Can we be courageous enough for self-inquiry? Can we ask ourselves in every moment, “How does my thinking, my posting, my speaking, my thoughts, unify rather than divide?” If the world needs healing, how are we each a unique vessel for that healing? What are we doing, saying, offering, that might offer a drink of refreshment to a very weary, thirsty, world?