The other day I received the following letter:
"Recently I read the following quotation: 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' (Edmund Burke) The same evening my wife and I were eating in a restaurant, where two young boys were having supper with their mother. One boy leaned across the table and knocked over his drink. Mother immediately became angry—kind of crazy, really. Verbally, she just pummeled him and pummeled him, and for good measure she beat him bloody—again all with her words, her tone, her facial expressions, and more. In the world at large this isn't the least bit unusual—other diners in the restaurant didn't even look up from their meals—but for us it was horrifying to listen to.
"So why should we not intervene in some way? If that mother had been physically beating the child, everyone in the place would have come down on her like a ton of bricks. But while they witnessed a verbal obliteration of an innocent child's entire sense of worth, they thought little to nothing of it. Is that really all right? By us just sitting there doing nothing, was that not allowing 'the triumph of evil?' Shouldn't we be doing more to proactively spread Real Love?"
Oh, what a temptation it is to right the injustices around us. In fact, we might seem morally justified—even compelled—to do so. But we have to keep in mind at least two factors.
The first is the cultural norms in which we live. It is socially acceptable to say something if a parent is beating a child physically. In fact, physically abusing a child is illegal in many countries, so we have ample moral and legal justification for saying something under such circumstances. But verbally abusing a child, while harmful to the point of being horrifying, is accepted with near unanimity, so stopping it would be considered intrusive by almost every perpetrating parent. Why is verbal abuse accepted, despite its obvious and lasting wounds? Precisely because it's so common that it has become "normal" (average, not out of the ordinary).
A second factor to consider is the ability of the other person to hear us. Imagine that you're speaking to someone who speaks only Farsi, and you speak only English. Contrary to what we see in common practice, communication is not facilitated by speaking slower and louder. When someone can't understand you, continuing to speak becomes stupid. Another means of communication—or another time—must be considered.
In a similar way, when the mother in the restaurant was berating her child, she was clearly demonstrating her emptiness and fears. Emotionally, she was deaf and blind, and whatever you said to her would almost certainly have been ignored or defended. Is there any possibility that she might hear you if you spoke gently, saying something like, "Ma'am, I know this is none of my business, but I ask you to look at the face of your son. He is miserable—in hell, frankly—and I wonder if that's what you really mean to do to him." Sure, it's possible that she might hear you, but it is far more likely that she would become offended and in a multitude of ways throughout the remainder of the evening make life even worse for her son.
So, yes, I agree that we should be more proactive in spreading Real Love, but the circumstance you describe probably is not one of those instances. How could we be more proactive? Oh, the opportunities are everywhere. Let me suggest just a couple, and you can extrapolate from there.
- A friend mentions a crime he read about in the newspaper, perhaps an assault or murder. We tend to cluck our tongues and bemoan the human condition, which not only accomplishes nothing but reinforces a feeling of helplessness about the choices people make, including our own choices. Instead, you could briefly and gently explain your experience that people behave badly in response to pain, so we might consider this in this case of the criminal and as we contemplate the unloving behaviors of the people around us every day.
- A friend mentions that his wife is unloving in some way—angry, critical, withdrawn emotionally or physically. Again, you say something like, "In my experience, people behave that way only when they are in pain, and almost always that pain is a lack of unconditional love in their lives—a condition they've suffered from childhood. When we understand that, we're much more compassionate and can begin to do something about it."
In each case, notice that you don't use any unusual words. You don't even use the term "Real Love." You just share your experience with why people behave as they do, and you'll learn rather quickly whether your friend is interested in learning more. If he wants to learn more, he'll ASK. If he mumbles and changes the subject, you're finished with that attempt to spread the message of Real Love. Another opportunity with that person may or may not come again, but you'll have many, many such opportunities with other people if you look for them.
There's a great deal we can do to spread the message of Real Love, which creates genuine happiness and dispels conflict and confusion. We just need to learn what we can do and steadily practice it, as with any other skill.
Dispel conflict and confusion and create genuine happiness
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