Friday, March 28, 2014

Empathy for the unempathetic

Hatred has never stopped hatred.
Only love stops hate.
This is the eternal law.

- The Still Point Dhammapada

It's not easy to love those who hate -- especially those who preach hate and shove their hatred in the faces of other people when they are most vulnerable, those like Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, whose followers picketed funerals and other events (reportedly more than 53,000) holding up hate-filled signs.

But hatred has never stopped hatred.

Meeting hate with hate creates the conditions for combustion. It increases separation, hardening the lines between us and them. It inflates our sense of self with the hot air of righteous indignation.

And it ensures that hatred will never stop. How could it? Even if the person you hate dies, others will carry their hate for them.

A lot of people hated Fred Phelps. The cruel protests he led sparked a visceral response -- a sense of outrage that someone would treat grieving families so horribly along with sympathy for the victims, which is probably not what he wanted.

But hating Fred Phelps or his actions didn't overcome them. Screaming hate-filled anger at a funeral is still screaming hate-filled anger, not the way we want to honor our loved ones.

In Buddhism, we're instructed to notice the strong emotion of hate arising but to act from a place of compassion. That's one of the hardest things to do. I can attain some equanimity around hatred in meditation, but to act, to come face-to-face with haters and stay in compassion, seems impossibly difficult.

But it happens.

It happened around Phelps' protests. Often when he announced his church would picket a funeral -- he always announced it, and sometimes that was all he did as the threat carried the hate with it -- the community would respond with an outpouring of people who stood between the protesters and those attending the funeral, a living river of compassion that aspired to sweep away the hate instead of feeding it.
And when Phelps died, his opponents responded at his church's next protests.

The Westboro Baptist Church members stood outside a Lorde concert in Kansas City this week. Megan Coleman, who helped make the banner, told NBC 41 Action News in Kansas City:

We realized it wasn't so much about antagonizing them, but sending out the counter-message, you know, that we are here for people that who need that message and need some positivity.

The Buddha's teaching of emptiness says that anything is possible -- we choose to hate or to love, to antagonize or to soothe. Our actions create our karma; our actions have consequences for us and for our world.

Choose love.

The photos above were used under Creative Commons license and can be found here and here. The other photos are screengrabs from the video, by NBC Action News.

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