Today I woke up to the news of violence.
A man was killed - because of violence under police detention. He was taken because he was “one of them”. He was “the other”.
For the policemen, it was a job. They took him down, pressed on his neck, and kept him there. They did not react to the man's crying that he couldn’t breathe. They had decided on their course of action.
Being a policeman requires fast decisions. You need to be fast to stop the criminal act and assure the safety of society.
I do not know how policemen and women are being trained but I believe fast response should be an important part of the training. It is a prerequisite.
The problem is that the decisions have deadly consequences: People can die.
What do you do?
You make sure you train two things: You train the ability to make fast decisions. And you train compassion. First and foremost you train compassion. Anyone who has high power over others should be first trained in compassion. They should recognize the preciousness of human lives. Every - human - life. (And every other living being's life). They should first start with compassion towards themselves, and then to others. Once and only once one has developed the compassion, then should the one be handed the authority. The speed of the decision comes next. Now the training should be towards making the decisions faster with compassion in place.
My first reaction to what I heard was a shock, then anger, and then sadness. I took time and did a compassion practice (tonglen). I did it first for the person who was killed. Then I tried it with the policemen who killed him. It felt difficult but got one tat easier with further practice. I could feel the regret, I could feel the ignorance which led to this misjudgment, I could feel the pride in the power which came as an aid to cover the lack of love of oneself and the lack of psychological safety. I felt the pain that made them close their hearts.
It is very easy to get angry with these policemen and you should get angry. But how long and to which extent? I saw comments under the news saying “You should die”. How is this different from what the policeman had done? That is calling them “the other”. Every time we call someone “the other” we are nurturing our fast decision of treating this person as an enemy. When we have the abilities, the tools, the authority, we quickly put them to use as a reaction to this enemy. For most of us, it is ignoring the person, looking down on them, judging them, gossiping about them. This is how it starts. The higher the authority, the severe the reaction. It can quickly escalate to physical violence and emotional abuse. Which in turn might impact the abused person to lose their emotional safety and look for ways to cover that. And when this person gets authority, it starts all over again.
We can all contribute to stopping this cycle by learning to be compassionate. It starts with being compassionate to ourselves. And being compassionate starts with pausing and observing. Observing the ways we act in violence with ourselves. Because naturally, we are all compassionate. We just developed ways to cover up some insecurities. If we discontinue the ways, our compassion can show up and find more space. That is not easy, that is why it is called a practice. We practice it day after day, month after month, and year after year. In the meantime, we pause harming others, and hopefully, by time, we develop new ways of acting compassionately.
Every living being is part of us and we are part of them. We treat ourselves as we would treat them and we treat them as we treat ourselves. Let’s start by being more compassionate towards ourselves and the rest will follow.