This week I watched Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and of course it caused me to start analyzing human behavior again. There was one line in the movie that really got me thinking. One of the soldiers said something to the effect that we all have this darkness in us and once you let it out it’s easy to get caught up in it. Basically once you get the green light from some form of authority that it is OK to do something harmful or hateful you are inclined to do it and when any doubts arise you can remind yourself you have permission. This is what happened to the soldiers that were working at Abu Ghraib. They engaged in horrendous acts of torture and humiliation of prisoners. On their own accord they would not have thought to act in this manner, but the chain of command permitted them to. Once they pushed through the initial fight put up by their consciences it became just a part of the job. Eventually they documented it on film just like they would any other normal aspect of life. As we all know the photos were their downfall. In the end it was the men and women at the bottom of that chain that took the heat for committing these acts. And of course they were the ones who did it, but they were only responding to a command placed before them by the highest authority. (It was Rumsfield who signed the first order that ultimately resulted in the photos we’ve seen of Abu Ghraib.)
At the intro and conclusion of the documentary they showed footage of an experiment done in the 50s (I believe). Average citizens were instructed to administer shocks to people (who were actually actors). The people would press a button and hear the actor screaming on the other side of a wall. The “authority” would tell them to give a stronger shock. A few argued but ultimately they all administered the shocks despite the cries and screams from the “victim.”
The lesson I learned from watching this documentary was that it really is vital that we teach our children and ourselves to listen to our inner guidance. I believe that within us all is a connection to something divine and loving. I believe that something speaks to us and inspires or encourages us to do no harm. If we follow it we will be at peace. If we do not we will be out of integrity with ourselves.
In some cases authority dangles a carrot of power in front of us. A leader may make demands on his/her followers using the threat of losing something valuable in order to maintain power. An organization or establishment may promise power to an individual in exchange for cooperation in some manner. Where ever it is, whether on the elementary school playground or the military battlefield, it is all about defending or acquiring power.
So the next time a demand is made of you get quiet and ask your inner guidance what you should do. If it feels terribly wrong it probably is. Don’t discount your instincts, they’re there for a reason! In the end the outer power will probably not be worth the inner conflict of selling out…
This is my post in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day. I have just returned from seeing Avatar and I am processing yet another very deep movie with lots of layers. One quote that stands out to me from the movie is:
“The strong prey on the weak and nobody does a thing.”
Unfortunately this is the truth about so much that has happened throughout human history. It is the people with money or political standing that get to decide for the rest of us. It was someone with money and power that sent explorers to the new world and encouraged them to steal an entire countryside from the Native Americans. It was someone with money and power that sent ships to Africa to bring back human beings for slave labor. Generations later it was someone with money and power that decided the descendants of those human beings, that were stolen from their home country and forced to America, were not human enough to have the same quality of life as white people.
And I think a lot of people get convinced it’s all OK. They decide that because the “powers that be” are doing it, then it must be just and right. Sometimes those “powers” convince them that it is for the greater good. They turn regular people with feelings and beliefs into enemies. Once you are convinced that people are a threat, you can ignore the tug at your conscience that tries to remind you they are just like you.
Sometimes though someone is strong enough to stand up for what they believe in and risk it all for change. It starts with just one person brave enough to do this. Eventually people start to take notice. They hear the truth in the message. We are all equal. Flesh and blood. Thoughts and emotions. Souls. In these ways we are all connected. Anything I do to another, I do to myself. Every prophet, mystic, Master has told us this.
I attended a workshop on Saturday that was presented by an amazing woman named Kamala Snow. We sat in the sanctuary of a lovely church here in town and Kamala explained that she had been in that very room attending a yoga class when the events of 9/11 happened. In that moment she knew that there had to be more to this world and this life than the hate that fueled that attack. She has spent eight years on a journey learning about our connectedness and how to bring light, love, and healing into her experience and the experience of those that come in contact with her. Within the next year she plans to open a healing center. “The Missing Peace” workshop was her first endeavor into sharing her knowledge and gifts with others.
The theme of the day was releasing our “sacred cows” (the things we hold onto or worship that actually hold us back) and inviting in and embracing the qualities we want to embody. An interesting observation I made was how similar we all were. There was one lady who shared her story and when she did I burst into tears with her. If I’d had the courage, I could have said exactly the same thing about myself. She and I talked later on in the day and I found out that on the exterior we are living very different lives but on the inside we are like sisters. Whether she knew it or not, I felt so bonded with her.
As the day wore on I was brought back to the same theme that’s been recurring for me all year and that is Power. Too often these days, I find myself giving away my power. I get an idea that is exciting and profound and then I find excuses to procrastinate or even give up. I tell myself I don’t have enough time, Mark and the girls need my time. I tell myself that friends or family wouldn’t approve and I don’t want to hurt feelings. I tell myself I don’t have enough money. I tell myself I’m disorganized and will crumble under the pressure. I give my power away. I give it to people, money, time, and lack of self-esteem. I let all of those things have power over me and frankly, I want my Power back.
So the word of the day for me was Power and we were instructed to create a sculpture of what our word looked like. I created something that looked a bit like a sun, except for all the “rays” were curved to represent movement. I loved it. It was power, it was ME! At the end of the afternoon, I took my sculpture and my other goodies and got in the car. The second I sat down the sculpture flipped out of my hand and every single one of my “rays” fell off. It seemed like such a bad sign and I considered crying. By the time I got home, I was completely bummed. I really wasn’t sure what I had taken away from the day. I wasn’t sure if I’d really released anything, that maybe my sculpture falling apart just proved how powerless I really am.
Later on in the evening a friend came over and we went out. At a certain point in the night, while hanging out with friends and watching Mark’s band play, I realized that I had actually released my biggest “sacred cow.” There was nothing weighing on me and I felt free. Nothing on the outside had changed, but the realization that I can chose to keep my power had made its way into my consciousness. I spent most of today in bed with a headache like I’ve never experienced before. Physically I felt a little like asking someone to put me out of my misery, but inwardly I felt like something was shifting. Perhaps I am finally tapping into my Power!
I was at the gym recently and a woman walked in to the restroom/locker room with her personal trainer. She looked around and commented that all the stalls were taken. The trainer who is a gym employee said “Sometimes people close the doors and you can’t tell if anyone is really in them or not.” So the lady proceeded to open one of the stall doors and walked in on someone. Immediately following the embarassing moment the trainer said “I meant for you to knock.” The woman’s reply to this was “Well, she should have locked the door.” The whole situation reminded me about the topic of taking responsibility.
I used to blame other people and circumstances for almost everything that happened to me. When I was in college I wanted to be an English major, with the idea that I would teach and also write. I took the first class required for that major and I started out shakily. The professor set up a meeting with me and suggested I drop the class. I took her advice, no questions asked and eventually chose a different major. I always blamed her for my failure. If it wasn’t for that professor I would have gotten an English degree. In reality, I was the only one responsible. That moment was a test and I could have reacted a lot of other ways. I could have worked harder and proved myself to her, but instead I let her be the one to squash my dreams.
In my last teaching job, I taught in an open classroom setting (which means 4 teachers shared one huge classroom with shelves dividing our spaces) with veteran teachers. I didn’t exactly mesh with the other ladies. I wasn’t as strict or organized as they were and it made things very difficult. I’d go home crying that if only they liked me more or didn’t expect me to be just like them I would enjoy my job. By the end I had even decided they were plotting against me. I never took responsibility for any of it. I never made real changes or tried to improve. I never even stopped to ask the real question of why teaching was such a struggle for me. I just decided that the next job would be better because I’d be at a different school with different co-workers. It was all their fault. (Of course, now I don’t really plan to go back to teaching.)
These days I take responsibility for everything. When I am happy it’s because I choose to be happy and not because someone or something has made me that way. If I am anxious or fearful I know it is because I am creating that by not being present and having faith. When I am faced with a challenge, I have choices to make and it is my decision that creates my future, not what happens outside of me. If I walk in on someone sitting on the toilet, it’s because I forgot to knock…not because they forgot to lock the door. There is power in responsibility!