Tag Archives: Peace

Let it begin with me.

There’s a line of morality that’s hardwired into us, as a feature of millions of years of evolution; we’re born with a fundamental opposition to killing other people. I believe that. Some people overcome it, either through drugs, or an obliterating flash of anger, or a deeply delusional (and fragile) rationalization.

Maybe this belief is my own fragile rationalization. I don’t know. Like our faith in God, whether the thing we believe is true or not…it’s comforting. Thus, valuable.

Once again, a group of people have committed an act of violence that shows a total disregard for life. The attacks in Paris (as the Boston Marathon bombing, as the Charleston church shooting, as 9/11…) have an extra layer of disbelief thrown over them. How long can someone hold the thought “I’m going to kill people indiscriminately” in their head? What kind of energy is required to maintain such an intent, for the length of time required to plan something as intricate as 9/11 or the Paris shootings? Is it even possible for that level of energy and determination sustain itself without help from an outside force?

Those who commit these crimes are guilty, regardless of influences. But isn’t it much, much worse to compel someone to mass-murder? If there is indeed a hardwired line of morality, there are those who manage to cross it and then there are those who succeed in erasing it in others.

All of the above are simply the things that people in front of keyboards write as they try to make sense of something that’s senseless. It’s a self-soothing behavior. There’s chaos in our world, and that’s terrifying; we try to convince ourselves that there’s some sort of order behind such a crime because if there’s a logic to follow, then there’s a solution to be found. But of course, none of it matters to the 127 people killed on Friday, and their families.

At times like these, I think of my Mom’s favorite church song.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Long before she was diagnosed with cancer, she told me she wanted it played at her funeral service. I wrote that down on a paper dinner napkin, to underscore that I had taken her seriously.

The song dates back only as far as “Rock Around The Clock” but it’s a strong, timeless sentiment. The first two lines (and their connection to Mom) have always held a lot of power. My own interpretation of them reminds me of the level of personal commitment and sacrifice required of me if I sincerely want a better world.

It’s not enough to simply wish for peace. The wish floats away and vanishes. We’re required to want that so badly that we’re willing to work to create peace inside our own hearts.

If we truly want peace, we can’t indulge in the selfish luxury of hate. Regardless of the provocation. Hate is another one of those self-soothing actions.

We can (and of course, must) seek justice, but we have to eradicate the thirst for vengeance. We must make the world safer, but in doing so, we can’t make ourselves angrier, or minimize our awareness of the humanity of all people everywhere, even the humanity of those who commit horrific, inhumane acts.

Those words come easily to me this weekend, because I thought about this so much during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I wasn’t filled with rage. Still, as I waited for my NYC friends (none of whom lived or worked near WTC) to check in, I “amused” myself by imagining the proper punishments for the killers’ co-conspirators.

The most baroque one involved an over-the-top super-glitzy 1970s-style Las Vegas game show in which the killers were more or less used as props. Their closest family members (who had no involvement in the attacks) competed in games in which they got to choose between winning fabulous prizes for themselves — up to and including citizenship in the free and safe country of their choice, and education for all of their children — or preventing the killer from being executed on live TV in front of them, through horrific, inefficient, mechanized mutilation.

See, the idea there was for the killers to spend their final living moments in an arena completely devoid of respect and dignity, and to be totally aware that they aren’t heroes, they aren’t martyrs, and that even those whose love and respect they value the most think they’re less than trash.

I imagined a scene in which one of the killers (strapped to a gaudy, glittery rotating wheel with high-spinning foot-long auger bits mounted behind it) pleads with his mother in disbelief.

“But what do you even need a pair of jetskis for? The closest lake is hundreds of miles away!!!

“Well, dear, they do come with a trailer…” Then she pulls a big red lever with twinkling lights inside the handle as the host laughs and urges the audience to raise up their plastic sheets.

I was writing sketch comedy in my head, not letting my emotions spiral away from me. Giving myself the freedom to design an intentionally-ridiculous set of punishments helped me to appreciate how easily this kind of situation can get out of hand, and how selfish (and self-harming) a thirst for vengeance can be.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

In the end, I realized that my real fantasy punishment was for Bin Laden to be arrested, tried, and convicted. And then to live a long, long life in an orange jumpsuit with a number stenciled over the pocket. I couldn’t imagine a more humiliating end.

Then, as now, I knew that circumstances would almost certainly make a capture and conviction impossible. Bin Laden made his choice. I wouldn’t have wanted the men who stormed his compound to attempt to preserve his life at the cost of their own.

My own choice was to foreswear vengeance and anger, and work to create a space of peace in the only place over which I have total control: my own head and heart.

It’s hard. Especially when you’re not thinking about a mass-murderer operating thousands of miles away, but someone you know who’s hurt you personally. You have a choice. Six months after the fact, will you still think about him or her with anger? Or will you reject that emotional impulse? Can you let that experience change how you deal with that specific individual or that situation without letting the experience change who you are, or the values you hold dear?

That’s another thing that I struggle with from time to time. It’s so very, very hard.

But if I want peace in my lifetime, it has to begin with me.

When tragedies like the Paris shootings take place, my compassion and love and concern for the victims is a much more powerful and effective force than my feelings about the killers. I must try to nurture and express those positive reactions. They should be so great that there’s no room in my heart for anything else.

Fight and hope for justice. But let peace begin with me.

Mom’s been gone for a long time now. But she still offers me love and comfort during difficult times.

Peaceful image of a gorgeous beach.

More, on the Buttafuoco Point

Peaceful image of a gorgeous beach.

There were lots of neat replies to my previous post. There were so many good comments — not all of them positive — that I thought I’d elaborate:

I certainly have nothing against LeBron James, and I certainly don’t fault basketball fans for being interested in his announcement. You should be interested; following basketball is one of those things that gives you joy. It’s a favored pastime, it engages your intellect and your enthusiasm, and you like talking about this stuff with your friends.

I’m just as interested in news about the tech world (because that’s my job as well as a personal interest) and the comix world (because I’m simply a fan). I’m just as interested in news about Gail Simone’s next job or the poor bastard at Microsoft who greenlit the Kin as a basketball fan is in news about LeBron James’ next job. There’s nothing wrong with that; nothing at all.

The point is that there are certain stories — like “what’s LeBron’s next move?” — that somehow start off as news stories and become news products…and the electronic media sells (say) the Tiger Woods infidelity story just as competitively and aggressively as Coke and Pepsi sell colas. It’s something that news producers who work for TV and the Web have to struggle with. Viewer attention is both (a) fleeting and (b) very, very valuable. I think segment producers at CNN and FOX are just as sick of the latest Lindsay Lohan story as anybody else. But they know that if they don’t spend six minutes of every hour talking about it, viewers are going to turn to another channel that will.

Result: over-marketed stories that will follow you wherever you go for news.

There was a point when I simply became aware of how much time I was spending learning about stories that I had no interest in, and which couldn’t possibly influence my life in any way. I resented that I was being force-fed this useless information. If I wanted to watch a half-hour news program, I had to see three minutes of interviews with the judges at JonBenet Ramsey’s final beauty pageant and hear their opinions about how well she posed to “Achy-Breaky Heart.” That was the deal, it seemed.

The Buttafuoco shooting was the first time I sort of blinked hard and realized that I’m an idiot.

(Well, yes: I already knew I was an idiot, of course. Many people had been helpful enough to point that out to me. I just mean this was the first time I realized I was an idiot about this particular thing.)

As we so often do, I’d forgotten that (oh…right) I’m actually in control of my life. Instead of passively sitting through the next four minutes of speculation about Gary Coleman’s will, and complaining about how pointless it is, I could change the channel. It’s a pain in the butt, because the story’s only a few minutes’ long and the story after it might have been interesting and relevant to me. But it’s something that I can do.

Instead of thinking “I’m really not particularly interested in hearing about Mel Gibson’s latest Really Stupid Drunken Comment…but I’ve already read every other article in this copy of ‘People’, and the captain hasn’t said it’s OK for me to turn on my iPad yet,” I can choose to close the magazine and enjoy five minutes of peaceful thinking, without any distraction or visual stimulation.

The amount of background data noise that surrounds us has increased and intensified every year since the Buttafuoco Days. Can you remember a moment in the past 24 hours when you were completely free from outside stimulation? Is constant immersion in this kind of information like living under high-voltage power lines? Maybe we’ll have no idea of the damage this is doing to us until the damage becomes irreparable.

Redefine all of this unnecessary information as “distraction” and then ask yourself the question again. If you’re spending every waking moment distracting yourself…what are you distracting yourself from? What is your brain clamoring to tell you, if it were ever to get your full and complete attention?

An experiment: The next time you have a little time to kill and you instinctively go to your phone to launch your email client or your Twitter app or the web browser, launch the Clock app instead. Set a countdown timer for the amount of time you were going to spend in any of those activities (or ten minutes, whichever is shorter).

And then, put the phone in your pocket and do nothing until you hear the chime.

The thoughts that will come to you will probably be very surprising. Often, it’ll include thoughts that have been clamoring for your attention for days. And I’m not talking about reminders to pick up your dry cleaning, either.

I openly admit that when I was a lad and first I defined the Buttafuoco Point, it was a somewhat smug response to the inundation of needless media and noise. But at this point, I think of it as one of the most valuable user-installed upgrades to my life software.

I benefit far more from three minutes spent listening to my ceiling fan with my eyes closed than I do from the same amount of time spent reading about Lindsay Lohan’s dad’s reaction to her prison sentence.