There is absolutely
no place in our world
for bloodstained children.
– Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda 4/2/03
This is our first task: caring for our children.
– President Barack Obama 12/16/12
It’s Christmas Eve, a day – let’s face it – we’re mainly thinking about our children. This year, unfortunately and unavoidably, we’re thinking also about 20 children few of us ever knew.
Why has this been such a punch in the gut, so different from other disasters, other tragedies?
Maybe it’s because children were targeted, little children, children little enough to believe that fear disappeared with Mom’s hug, danger could be vanquished with a reassuring smile from Dad — children who may have died believing in life.
Or perhaps part of the horror we feel after Newtown is that we had assumed there was some impulse, some characteristic, deep within the human psyche, that would not allow one of our one of our fellow humans to do this. Now we have no choice but to face what we humans are capable of. Now we have to worry that, because it has been done, it is now possible to do again.
If only there really were an impulse, deep within our souls, that made it impossible for us to do anything that might harm a child.
The aliens have landed, and they are us.
No, we are not like him, we are not all capable of that. But as noted in a previous column: “We are all capable of love and compassion; we are all capable of anger and hopelessness. The impulses take different shapes with different people, but the impulses are there, in all of us.” So yes, our impulses take different shapes. The revelation, the punch in the gut, is that we didn’t realize this particular shape was a possibility for one of us.
We all recognize it takes a special kind of sickness to do what Adam Lanza did. We are not all Adam Lanza. That’s not the point.
But this is fact: we have built a civilization that could not survive in its present form if we did not accept the possibility of hurting children. They are “collateral damage” in a lot of our activities. They are eggs broken to make an omelet we feel justified in making. And we have found ways to live with that.
This is not to say our whole society is to blame for what one person did in Newtown. This is just to say that, if we are shocked and horrified by the deliberate harming of children, we need to look at all the ways we all harm children.
We don’t do it, always, intentionally or consciously. And this is not the same a s discipline, teaching children things they may not be anxious to learn at the moment.
But we all, individually and collectively, have activities and systems that, though not involving children directly, have the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of doing them harm.
So we do it. We excuse it. We ignore it. But we’re all party to it. We have made the world this way, and we tolerate a world made this way.
Our society – everywhere in the world – has evolved partly because we have armed ourselves and waged war.
“We had to bomb that city to win the war.” Of course. “Well, they had no scruples about hurting our children.” No, they didn’t.
“I don’t know how he got his hands on that gun – I had it locked away.” That was the responsible thing to do, all right.
Try to imagine a world with no weapons – none. We cannot imagine that. And the fact remains that, no matter what precautions are taken, no matter what motivates the users of weapons, as long as they exist they will hurt children.
We starve our children, or we bloat them. We tolerate underfunding medical and food programs for children, and using them as bargaining chips; while simultaneously developing and selling them food products that are only slightly this side of tasty poison.
We can live with that.
We ignore our own children, we punish them for not being just like us, we teach them our own prejudices, we disparage those who would impart them knowledge (but who, as we have seen, would stand between them and a killer).
We can live with that.
In fact, it would be very difficult to live any other way. If we suddenly found it impossible to hurt a child, if the means by which adults hurt children – intentionally or not – were suddenly to disappear, then much of our way of life would disappear with it. This is what we have done. This is the world we have made. We accept “collateral damage”. We have to have that omelet.
There are discussions going on about the way we address mental health issues, and about the way we have made guns so common in America. Those are important, those are both priorities, we will be better off if they are both addressed.
But for there to be change – forever change – we have to face the alien that broke down the door of Sandy Hook Elementary School. And, to a great extent, we have to face him in the mirror.
As Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist lay organization, has said: “Emerson declared ‘Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind’. He strongly urged us to undergo an inner transformation. . . An inner revolution is the most fundamental and at the same time the ultimate revolution for engendering change in all things.” (For Today and Tomorrow, p. 372)
We, as individuals and as a society, tolerate activities that have the possibility of harming children — from gunning it to beat a yellow light on the way to work, to drone attacks in distant mountains. They are part of our culture, our way of life. Part of the shock and disbelief at the events in Newtown is that it’s been put out there for us to see, if we will – adults hurt children. That can only change when we decide, together, that it’s worth changing.
So as we hug our children today, laugh with them, snap their pictures, sing with them — we know, in those moments, we know, absolutely and beyond doubt: “There is absolutely no place on our world for bloodstained children.”
Can we live with that?