My mother heard the first gunshot. And then the second. She’d been told to come straight back from school, and hurried on. As she looked over her shoulder she noticed a man cycling. After a few meters he toppled over bleeding and the police began to circle in.
One morning, my great grandmother grabs her by the hand and heads for the police station. My mother was only a child. But they’d been summoned by the occupying forces: “Where is your son?” the officer asked my great grandmother. “I’ve already told you”, she said. “I don’t know”.
My great uncle was in fact at the border working as a doctor in a national liberation camp and treating wounded resistance fighters. Urban “terrorism” was intensifying and the police and paramilitary were cracking down on civilians.
My maternal great uncle (front right) at a meeting of the National Liberation Front.
I’ve often thought of my mother in that police office. My great grandmother. The police officer. How they must have felt. The air must have been thick with tension, they were all caught in a cycle of fear and violence. What would I have done?...Would I have been brave and wise, or afraid and cowardly? Would I be in the resistance or among the oppressors, or a just a bystander? We can never know.
I thought back to the events this week when I saw a question online, in the wake of the tragic violence in the US: why do people loot?
My PhD was in social epidemiology with one world of the world's leading experts on socioeconomic inequality and I recommend the book The Spirit Level (the research exploring how and why inequality correlates with crime at the country level).
The US is one of the most unequal countries in the world, comparable to Mozambique and Cameroon according to the World Bank and CIA rankings...
While we’d like to think we’re among the “good people” of the world, the truth is we all participate in creating these societies when we turn a blind eye and act out our primal drives of safety, comfort, and reproduction above all else.
Ursula LeGuin described this moral dilemma powerfully in The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
Martin Luther King saw it in America: "the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice."
The Buddha and other sages tried to warn us about this thousands of years ago when we started to create big cities: greed, hatred, and delusion are endemic to the human psyche. That goes for all of us.
Like my great-uncle I became a doctor. Like him I believe in fairness and freedom. Like him I do what I’m called to do with hope of a better world, liberating others as I liberate myself.
Until we make freeing ourselves from our fear and delusions a priority at individual and collective levels, these cycles of violence will continue, unfortunately.
P.S. Registration for Presence Power Possibility: Advance Your Freedom closes at midnight tomorrow. It’s a journey of deep work and inner-wisdom. I don’t know if I’ll be running it again and at this price. If you resonate, don’t hesitate. More details here. Join the group today.