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Life Matters

By Tilly Campbell-Allen
Buddhistdoor Global | 2020-06-22 |
Image courtesy of the authorImage courtesy of the author

Lives matter.

All lives matter.

The latter has become a controversial adjunct bannered by many on the back of the Black Lives Matter movement. Is this a chant of the privileged who have never felt the brutal hands of injustice? Or simply a cry for equality, respect, and honoring of every life? Is it a chant meant to whitewash years of suffering? Or a sentiment not meant to be weighted in any direction other than a just cry for the rights of all?

And this latter sentiment is surely a beautiful idea, no? The way it surely should be . . . right?

In a recent discussion about the events of the last few months, which are unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, we veered off into lateral thoughts about life and humanity and the human condition in general. A point was raised about how many would call for the Right to Life, how so many find animal cruelty abhorrent, and rightly so, but when aired on social media, the public indignation is often hypocritically righteous as many then tuck into a meaty or seafood meal without thinking twice. A point to reflect on, maybe.

We then thought of the pack mentality of humans, and how the seed of an idea can hook people into following a trend. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the UK, there was an artistic movement that swept the nation in support of the National Health Service and frontline staff. Rainbows started appearing in residential home windows thanking frontline workers for being heroes, for “sacrificing" themselves for the benefit of all . . . many of whom already do so on a daily basis and sadly rarely do they receive public gratitude, and even less frequently do they receive the pay, working conditions, and respect they deserve. 

But I digress. 

All the stay-at-home children were busy with their coloring pens and paints, eagerly and earnestly focused on the task of making rainbows. There were also media-encouraged arranged handclaps, during which the inhabitants of the country were hanging out of their windows at allotted times durin the day, clapping in appreciation for all the hard work of hospital staff, care home staff, and for all those folks deemed essential service workers, for all the risks they have incurred. In many respects, it’s a very lovely sentiment, meant by many as a heartfelt and genuine recognition and valuing of the hours and hard work of anyone in a job that cares for others, and during lockdown it was as much as many felt they could do. I truly hope that it has inspired some youngsters out there to pursue a meaningful career of caregiving, or at least, for some folks to reevaluate what it means to have a career of meaning. But it also had us thinking about how quickly these bandwagon trends take hold, how fast we can be directed into a way of thinking and doing, and, maybe most concerning, how fast we can be distracted from important issues by suggestions of the relatively banal, or how things can be kept fresh in our minds by the same suggestions.

At worst, the pack instinct of us humans—given that we have this primordial drive to be in the “winning clan” and feel accepted—can drive us into a frenzied wild hunt for, let’s say, a culprit who has been deemed responsible for the suffering of others. How did many of us react to the hunt of known terrorists? Did we condone this bloodlust due to their obvious evildoings? Can we maintain the “all lives matter” argument within the quiet of our private self when fueled by the awareness of terrible injustices and cruelty? Clearly not the sociopolitical point of the recent protests, which are addressing a hideous legacy of division and human behavior, but merely a tangent, albeit a difficult thought. Arguably the best aspect of the pack aspect of humans is getting things done. En masse

Some protests are sadly nothing but a noisy day’s walk up and down some city streets, which may or may not make the news—or if it does, hopefully without too much biased reporting. Then there are the rallies that are aggressively swept under the carpet, but the result of either is all too often the same: within 48 hours, everyone is back at their day job, the general public are distracted by the next media sensation, and nothing is really achieved. And those in power know this all too well. But every now and again, the dissent against political malfeasance or unjust social acceptance or compliance transforms into a tsunami of change.

Image courtesy of the authorImage courtesy of the author

And as you may know, a tsunami is made up of water: 0.05 milliliters of water makes a drop, and an estimated 26,640,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 drops make up all of our known oceans. 

A single drop may not seem to make a difference, but it’s worth remembering this analogy of the power of coming together. Tsunamis can sweep in and devastate lives, and so can violent riots. But we don’t need to wait for grand riots and rallies. Clapping really won’t make any difference to paychecks and the realities of a frontline worker’s life. But what we can do is be mindful and utterly conscious of our actions every single day. We want to respect life? Well, respect it in how we behave, in what we stand up for, in what we buy, and in what we eat. We can’t erase the atrocities of the past, nor should we condone the suffering. And bear in mind that suffering is accepted, romanticized, and even celebrated in too many films and TV shows that we call entertainment. So it’s all too easy to become blasé.

If we are to believe in the transmutation of the soul, then we have all likely been the cause and the victim of much suffering over the course of known human history. I am both ashamed and feel the pain of all my ancestors, all my past selves. However, in this incarnation, I will never know what it’s like for anyone else, to be in their skin and mind and experiences. But I do know what world I want my children, and their children, and theirs, to grow up in. A world of kindness and understanding that is extended to this cosmic electron that we call home hurtling through the void—which, if we don’t actually treat as our priority, all our in-fighting, as well as hopes and dreams, will be futile, as our selfish destruction of this planet is our own slow suicide.

I can’t change the past, but I can learn, evolve, and affect the future by my actions in the present.

So don’t wait to be engineered onto a trending bandwagon. Think for yourself and apply actions in every possible moment, however small they feel. Our thoughts are our liberation from the prison of constructed culture. And our thoughts do not only reside in our head.

At the profound level of reality, there is no separateness, no gross matter. No you, no me. But pain to you is pain to me; suffering to one is suffering to all. So in my unsolicited opinion, this world of ours, in which so many of us are detached from things fundamentally natural, living in a construct of engineered “norms,” and in which kindness as an everyday practice is too often comprised, it behooves us to consider what practical acts we can carry out on an everyday basis. Small acts that echo the chants that we may join in on. The droplet in the tsunami of change.

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Love in the Time of Coronavirus, Part Three: Offering
Metta’s Walk in the Park
Do Not Resuscitate

More from Silk Alchemy by Tilly Campbell-Allen

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