By Jim Selman | Bio

What is it about us that generates such endless fascination with conflict and suffering around the world? As I am watching Israel’s war with Hamas and the occupation of Gaza, I become resigned that the situation there will never be resolved and I fall into a kind of ‘funk’ about the Middle East mess in general. Now I don’t know all that much—just what I get from television, magazines and conversations with friends who don’t know much more than I do. I have become like so many of us—a spectator watching war (and other calamities) with about the same degree of engagement as I might watch a football game.

What is even more interesting is that I can hear myself in conversations arguing one point of view or another as if my point of view were: a) relevant, b) informed and well grounded, and c) might make some difference—even in the context of whoever I am talking to. In fact, none of these are true and, more often than not, the conversation devolves into an argument that defies resolution.

Like all spectators, I have become trapped in a story and lost the distinctions between what I think is happening and what may in fact be going on. With righteous indignation I rail at the bombings and violence by both sides and look to who I can blame for the “crisis du jour”. I pray that the next U.S. administration can do something that the last seven or eight have not, while not really believing anything will happen. I find myself avoiding more and more conversations rather than risk friendships or provoke more of the kind of black-and-white fragmentation we’ve lived with for the past eight years. I find myself becoming a turtle on some issues and withdrawing into a kind of ‘detachment’ from current events.

The fact that all this agitates me is a reflection of my ego’s desire to control all that I perceive. This is a great example of how we can destroy our serenity when we can’t accept life and reality as it is. It is not my point of view that is ever an issue. It is the mood and ‘rigid position’ that arises when I think I am ‘right’ or when I want to impose my view on others. It isn’t that I can’t care about the suffering (or insanity) of others. It is just that I can’t do anything about it. If I want to ‘take it on’ then I would need to, first of all, be responsible for it and then go into action either politically or in some other way. I might or might not succeed, but I would no longer be just a spectator in the stands watching the conflict without any stake in the game.

If we want to make a difference it begins, I think, by distinguishing between being a spectator and being a player. Then when we speak or listen to the news, we are engaged in the process and the possibilities that can be created. When we engage, we are no longer resigned and we are putting our wisdom into action in whatever ways we can. At the end of the day, the outcome will be beyond our control, but our day-to-day actions are not. If enough of us are engaged, then the world can change also.
I am reminded of a quotation by Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt the ability of an individual or small group of people to change the world—indeed, that is the only way it has ever happened”.

 © 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.


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