In perilous times, mediocrity and unkindness flourish. If true, and I think it is, this is nothing unusual ... any animal, however weak, will bear its claws and fangs when cornered: Better your blood be spilled than my own; better I survive on what little there is than you. Nothing unusual, but worth keeping an eye on.
After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a Buddhist monk was asked what he feared most about the potentially-fatal situation. He replied, "I feared I might lose my compassion." Setting aside whether compassion is something anyone might lose or gain, his words have a meaning that anyone might understand. Understand and, within a perilous context, perhaps dismiss as being too airy-fairy by half... who cares about compassion when the bullets are flying in my direction? Get real!
And again ...
Dave, a friend of mine in New York, sent an email yesterday in which he described a bit of his current office setting. He works in the music industry and so, because music is a hardy plant even in hard times, the economic pressures being felt around the world are not as bad as they might be. Still, there was one woman, an accountant, who seemed to want to dip her oar into everyone's business. "She seems to think she's running the place," Dave wrote. And perhaps the bean counters have a point: Business is business and business wants money and the less money there is, the more strangled and strangling the approaches to business may become. Business wants money but it also needs to sell a product someone else might want to buy. If that product becomes too strangled, who will buy it?
And again ...
On the war-and-peace front, if too many people get killed in a war, will there be enough people to sustain and enjoy the peace?
In hard times, hearts harden. Perhaps this is an interesting social observation, but I am more interested in the hardening of your heart or mine.
In the movie, "Open Range," a pretty good western, there is a brief exchange between a frightened townsman and one of the protagonists who plans to confront the bad guys. "You could confront them," the protagonist says more or less. "You're men, aren't you?" And the townsman replies approximately, "I didn't bring my sons up just to be killed." To which the protagonist says evenly, "You may not know it, but there are things worse than dying."
Anyone might sympathize with the townsman who had two fine sons. And yet there is a whisper in all of us, I think, that knows what the protagonist is talking about as well. He is not addressing some elevated morality, something to which only heroic figures might aspire ... some church-going goodness or valor ... some god-laced bullshit. He is speaking as our whispers speak ... the plain truth.
There are things worse than dying and it behooves us all to discover those things, to heed our whispers. Not that we will not be afraid and confused and make any number of wrong turns. Not that our cruelties will be vanquished in the face of an imagined nobility. Not that we need to sign on to one religion or another.
Just listen to the whispers in your own heart and see if they do not find some peace in the activities that Shakyamuni Buddha (who cares who said it!) alluded to when he was alleged to have said:
"It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."