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There are two spheres of influence that we could focus on. We could focus our attention on what is wrong with the “other” – be that another person, another country, another culture, another religion, another…
Or, we could focus on ourselves. We could act personally, and within our own country, culture or religion.
Which is most effective? Which is most just? Which is most compassionate? Surely, the answer is apparent.
The trouble is that we are all to quick to apportion blame, responsibility and the need to change on the “other.” But, as is said; it takes two to tango.2 Within any conflict there is a part of the truth on either side. There is also part of the guilt on either side. If we keep apportioning the whole of that guilt on the “other” then we are just going to keep going round and round in an everlasting (and often escalating) circle.
And escalate it does. When we apportion blame and guilt on another, we then start to notice every act that the “other” does as further “proof” that they are to blame. It’s a bit like when we buy a new car, we suddenly notice that same model car everywhere we look.
So, the circle keeps going round and round, escalating with every circuit.
Where do we break that circle? How do we de-escalate the cycle of violence, blame and guilt? Not by pointing the finger at the other, that’s for sure. For as soon as we point the finger at the other, the chances are that they will just point back and say something like “you started it.” And that goes as much for inter-cultural rivalry and international conflict as it does for us at a one-to-one level.
Thus, social change activists have a responsibility to look within: within our own selves, within our own nations, within our own cultures for the seeds that give rise to conflict, aggression and offence.
The Charlie Hebdo incident is a good example of this. Millions of people worldwide marched in support of Charlie. Sometimes, that support was re-focussed and became vitriol directed outward upon Muslim people – the “other” culture and religion. But within our western society don’t we have a responsibility to look at how we contribute to, and exacerbate, such incidents? It is the western powers that have largely invaded Middle Eastern countries. The racism displayed by westerners towards Muslim people is wide-spread. This racism often extends to making offensive remarks or images.
This then is where we must act. Within ourselves, within our culture, within our own spaces. We must seek out the ways in which we give offence and contribute to the escalating cycle of violence. We can attempt to get rid of the rotten seeds (racism, sexism, militarism, ill-will, greed etc etc) within our own culture.
Perhaps Charlie Chaplin (one of the world’s greatest comedians) expressed this idea best when he said that:
“My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh. But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.”1. Charlie Hebdo is a French weekly satirical magazine. On 7 January 2015 two gunmen opened fire in its offices, killing twelve. The magazine had previously printed cartoons that were offensive to many of Muslim faith.
2. The saying “it takes two to tango” comes from a 1952 song Takes Two To Tango written by Al Hoffmann and Dick Manning, and made famous by singer Pearl Bailey.