I found myself pondering for long periods of time recently this dynamic. I live in a time and place where we have a difficult time owning the internal attitudes and world views that cause us trouble. For example, it is very difficult for many white men to have open conversations about what we know and don’t know, believe positively and negatively, fear and suspect about people who are not white men. I’ve chosen “white men” to illustrate this because I am one and because this comes closest to home for me. I must say that I also know some few white men who do seem to be able to have this sort of conversation, albeit painfully. If this does not apply to you, please don’t allow my own reflection to cause you suffering.
I can declare that I am open to people of all kinds, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, and all the shades of brown that human skin comes in. I can do that, and consciously, I mean that. Most of the white men I know would also. But I also suffer. I suffer because I don’t know a lot about any one of those sub-groups (and I think I know more than most men my age). I was taught early on to fear or stay away from or even to judge as unacceptable many people who fall into these groupings. I suffer because I don’t really know myself very well on some levels. Do I have a feeling about some people because that’s how I really feel, or is it a left-over fear from childhood or a recent fear developed out of some other experience? Why did I have this or that internal reaction when I was around this or that person?
In the midst of my own pondering over these things, I was reminded that this is the First Noble Truth of Buddhist teaching. We all suffer. The path toward healing and liberation is to begin by acknowledging that we suffer. To me, that means saying out loud even if to myself–this is how I suffer. I suffer from a fear of others that is almost as old–maybe older–than I am. I don’t remember choosing this fear, but it’s in me. I suffer because I have denied this fear for so long that I can barely acknowledge that it is there. I suffer because it is still there, and it still influences how I see, experience and act toward other human beings. I also fear, in my suffering, that I cause others to suffer because I suffer.
I am convinced that this dynamic of human suffering, its denial and because of the denial, its transference to others–causing them to suffer–is part of the root of social injustices.
When I can say out loud to myself (and sometimes others) how I suffer, I can report that something of the suffering does, in that moment, begin to lift. I think this is the first step to our healing, and I suspect, a first move in the cause for social justice.