You Want Change? Here’s Where to Start

You may have noticed that my Facebook feed for the last day or two has been filled with posts about hatred and fear. I’ve written passionately and at length about all the people in the world who I think need to stop being so hateful.
How childish of me. I know better. The only one who needs to change is ME. Let me explain with a little story:
I needed to book a rental car yesterday. And I found first the website and then the customer service agent to be incredibly frustrating. So much so that 20 minutes into the project, I found myself yelling into the phone, “Well you obviously can’t help me and that makes you WORTHLESS!” before angrily clicking my mouse to disconnect the Skype call.
And then I sighed deeply and hung my head.
Did I really just SCREAM at another human being, in a verbally violent attempt to exact punishment on him for thwarting me?
Yup, that’s exactly what I did.
And in so doing, I aligned myself squarely with every other act of hate being perpetrated in this world.
• I became identical to the radical Islamic terrorists who killed so many innocent people in San Bernadino this week.
• I stepped into the shoes of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who put 16 bullets into Laquan McDonald, sparking the waves of protests now happening all over Chicago.
• I even embodied good old Donald Trump, as he spews hatred and bigotry in an attempt to get elected President.
I realize now, in a blessed moment of spiritual clarity, that every single one of us – myself, Syed Rizwan Farook, Tashfeen Malik, Officer Van Dyke, Donald Trump (and you?) – want nothing more than to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but also safe from attacks on our ego or sense of self. Meaning, we want to feel right.
Psychologically, when we feel right we feel safe. Conversely when we feel wrong – or more specifically, when we feel accused of wrongdoing, or feel thwarted – we tend to feel endangered. And feeling endangered sparks a hard-wired response to lash out and defend ourselves.
My weapon of choice when I lunge into self-defense mode is words. And while words may not kill, they certainly inject just as much darkness into the world as any other weapon, because of their intent.
The intent of my words, when I lash out in anger, is to harm another person. I feel thwarted, wronged, opposed – and I want the other person to not just stop, I want to emerge victorious over him. I want to inflict harm, and impose punishment for what he’s done to me.
And fundamentally, that’s what every human being wants. Self-preservation, no matter what the cost to anyone else.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of people on this planet now have access to increasingly deadly weapons. And when they feel unheard – when words alone are nowhere near enough to make them feel right, or feel that the wrongdoer has been sufficiently punished – they reach for those weapons.
“I’ll show you!!” they say. “I’ll inflict my views and opinions on you by KILLING you, along with everyone you love and all that you stand for! Maybe that will make you sorry you ever disagreed with me!!”
Yup, they’re no different than me.
So as the old saying goes, change begins with me. If I seek peace in this world, the best thing – the only thing – I can do is try every single day to find peace within myself.
To that end, I restate my intention – as I have to do almost every day of my life, because nearly every day I fail – to see other people through eyes of love and compassion. Because they are all me.

What did you think?