Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Human Beings Do Horrible Things

I am regularly moved and inspired by people's compassion and willingness to help each other. But today, I am contemplating what it is in human beings, that allows us to do things like use chemical weapons on each other. . . on children. I say "us" because, although it is unlikely that I will ever be in a position to make that kind of choice (and I would hope that I would refuse to do such a thing,) it is not particularly useful to separate ourselves from those who make choices to deliberately inflict harm.

At it's core, harming another is enabled by an ability to make others less-than. That is where the violence starts. Sometimes this is mixed with fear or greed or a lust for power, but always it requires not seeing others as fellow human beings, not cherishing all children as our children.

And. . . disconnecting from others to a degree that allows us to do violence to them, always entails disconnecting from ourselves at least a little, so we do not feel our common humanity. This is true even if the level of violence is "just" verbal. .

And there it is- the need to stay deeply connected to our own precious, flawed humanity. It's what helps us live side by side when we disagree, what enables us be clear about what is good for our shared communities without having to vilify those who disagree with us as something less than a fellow fallible human being.

Please don't misunderstand me- accepting that someone who has done violence is a fellow human being does not mean we condone the action or fail to hold human beings accountable for those actions.

Not making someone who had done violence less-than is not easy. The man who raped me when I was a young woman is a fellow human being. See what I mean? Hard. I don't need to see or engage with him. Nor do I approve of or understand what he did But he is a fellow human being, And sometimes human beings do horrible things.

It all reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Aleksandr Solznhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This being human- not always easy. Sometimes we have to take turns remembering who and what we are, reminding each other, leaning into each other, finding ways to live together in our shared world. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

With gratitude to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this image of the darkness and the light.


  1. So well said, Oriah. I struggle with this a lot and, yet, I'm reminded how fragile we are and that none of us always fully know the consequences of what we do. Always striving to be able to forgive like Jesus, when he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Thank you for sharing. I will share on my social media.