The Cycle of Despair – The Cycle of Healing
In my first marriage I was truly an expert at causing my husband pain. Indeed we began tearing each other apart with our words long before we were even married. After a while we became so used to hurting each other that it was our default position. Arguing was easier than listening. Sometimes it seemed easier than breathing. If he said black, I said white. If he said up, I said down. We became so used to receiving pain from each other that we walked around in a permanent state of armed resistance. I remember vividly one day standing at the kitchen stove, cooking dinner, and hearing him walk in the door. The thought that popped up in my head was, “here comes criticism.” At that moment I could not imagine that he might have a kind word for me or that we could be friends.
That was long ago and far away. Time has passed and we have both healed. I no longer see him as the enemy, but as a good man, a loving father, a passionate, caring human being with both strengths and weaknesses. But it did take years of separation and healing to let go of the hurt, the anger, the betrayal, and the automatic tendency to go into attack mode.
The news from the Middle East in recent weeks has been horrific. Images of death and grief, wailing mothers and angry fathers are everywhere we look. Just as the arguing in my first marriage seemed to me inevitable at the time, the cycle of pain seems to have become a permanent fixture of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship. We know that when people feel threatened – that their lives or the lives of those they love – are endangered, they go into fight or flight mode. As human beings, when we are afraid our capacity for empathy closes down so that we can better defend ourselves. And yet the only way out of the horror is through empathy. It particularly concerns me when we begin to label those we disagree with, or who are different from us, as “other” – somehow evil, wrong, less than human. It is hard to feel compassion for those who are threatening us, those who are trying to hurt us. And yet, if we can find a way to overcome even for a moment the fear and terror we feel and to reach out to those we fear and say, in the words of Thich Naht Hanh, “Dear friend, I know you are suffering, help me to understand your suffering so that I may understand you,” then reconciliation, healing and peace become possible.
Arguments between couples, wars between nations, it is the same. I believe that only when we can see each other as hurting, suffering human beings trying to live as best we can, is peace and healing possible. I know that others will see this differently. I welcome heart-felt, respectful discussion. Let’s listen to each other.
You may find interesting Thich Nhat Hanh’s thoughts on compassionate listening: