A young woman questioned me the other day after watching the news. She had seen a little girl from Syria, bandaged and bloody, asking why her government would do this to a child. In the same broadcast, she saw horrifying images of a fiery explosion set off by a father who attacked his two little boys with a hatchet, then immolated himself with them.
She asked: If there is innate health in all people, how do these things happen? Aren’t some people altogether evil? How can you say leaders and fathers who brutally murder families for no reason share the same humanity as the rest of us?
This is an important question. If we do not see the answer, we lose all hope for peace and understanding in the world because we lose all hope for change, no matter what. If there are truly evil people who are different from the rest of us, then we are doomed to fear, conflict, and judgement.
To understand brutality and cruelty, we understand that the power to think and take our thinking as real is the absolute and only power we have to navigate life. We either live at the mercy of that power, or we live at the source of it. Either events, people and circumstances “make” us react, think, feel and do things, or we determine how we respond and what we make of events, people and circumstances. It’s that black and white. Outside-in: Circumstances create our lives. Inside-out: we create our lives. Outside-in: we are engaged in a constant struggle to get circumstances to conform to our thinking about what it would take for us to be OK. Inside-out: we are engaged in a constant process of shaping our own happiness in relation to changing circumstances. Outside-in: When things beyond our control do not turn out the way we think we need them to, there is no limit to what we will do to try to force them into line so we can feel better. Inside-out: Things beyond our control are not the determinants of our well-being or peace of mind; our own dynamic thinking creates our state of mind and we can count on change from within to sustain our own ease.
The irony is, both scenarios are born of the same fundamental principles. If we think life is pushing us around, we live in the reality we have created with our own thinking, a reality in which we are victims of circumstances, doing what we have to do to survive life. If we think we are strong and resilient originators of our own experiences, then we live in the reality we have created with our own thinking, a reality in which we are creators of experience, freeing our minds to understand and respond to life. If we see that the power to think and take our thinking as reality is the point, then we have the freedom to decide how we will be in relation to life. Victim or originator? Pushed around or finding our way? Suffering in the storm of insecure thinking, or living in the light of wisdom?
How does this explain brutality and cruelty? Those who are enmeshed in thinking that life is controlling them are always to some degree, and often to a great degree, insecure. They live in the question, “Who knows what will happen next and what it will do to me?” They are at war with circumstances. They move to another city to get away from a place they think is bringing them down. They lash out at people who annoy them, or hurt them, or question them. They blame people and things. They get angry. They hold grudges. They take revenge. If they are in a position of power and they get insecure enough, they use their power to crush whatever they don’t like because it looks to them like that is what they have to do to survive. Because the answer is never outside of themselves, because the answer can only be within their own thinking, there is no stopping point. The more extreme the action they take to get relief from their insecurity, the more extreme the next action will be. It will go as far as fratricide, or genocide, or self-destruction because insecurity breeds insecurity; the failure of a small step to bring relief only feeds the dark thinking that is driving the person to desperation. The more upset one becomes, the more it looks like that upset is coming from the outside.
Why do so many people who have committed horrendous acts “see the light” after they are shut away in solitude? Removed from all the turmoil of their lives, in a safe and quiet place, their heads can clear, their thinking quiet down. In a moment of quietude, they
“realize” what they were doing. If someone can step in and explain to them where thinking comes from and how powerful thinking is, they can reconnect with the resiliency that was always there, obscured — even totally blacked out — by the storm of thought roiling through their minds.
In that, we all share the same humanity. We share the infinite, universal light of resiliency, wisdom, peace of mind. We have the ability to form thoughts; there is no limit to our thinking. If we use it to make up a painful, negative reality and get totally caught up in that reality, we can lose sight of the light, forget that we are thinking our way through life. We can fall deeply into darkness. But the light is never extinguished, even when it is invisible.
Even those we deem hardened criminals, hopeless cases, can (and do) change once they awaken to the way thought works: We use the energy flowing through our minds to form thoughts and then we become conscious of those thoughts, which appear to be real. Without understanding, we do not know that what appears real is no more than the illusion of thought in action.