March 20, 2019

Peace Among Us

There is no doubt that the early part of the 21st century, our time, will take its place in history with the stain of radical beliefs and the extreme violence they fuel.

A wise man once said to me “people who are too certain of anything terrify me,” and when you look at the residency that grief has taken in so many cities around the world as a result of radicalisation – you begin to understand that it is the ‘certainty’, not the creed of these radicals that fuels their inhumanity.

Different is dangerous; evolution programmed us to believe that. Yet, in a world of globalised travel; instant communication; the democratisation of knowledge, the separation of church and state; medical science; philosophy, fire, the wheel and the order of law…this is no longer a belief that serves us. A fear of things or people that are different is an unhelpful evolutionary hangover – akin to the tiny leg-bones that reside in the backs of whales as a vestige of a time when they were land, not marine mammals. Many, many millions of years ago.

The radical or extreme belief that drives a fear or hatred of ‘different’, is an irrational fear; created by distorted thinking and failed evolution.

When you hold onto a radical belief – it takes you away from humanity. It takes you far out to the fringe of our species to a position where you are unable to make out the individual humans who are spotted along the rest of the thought spectrum. What you can see is a blurred visage of ‘They’. ‘They’ say. ‘They’ do. ‘They’ think.

Radicalism reduces those who are not radical to an indistinguishable and unrelatable: ‘They’.

‘They’ are different from ‘Us’.

The blurring of people into a ‘They’ creates a very clear border between ‘them’ and ‘us’. ‘They’ takes away our common humanity; ‘They’ are different.

When radical thought turns the human race into ‘They’ and ‘Us’’; then ‘They’ are no longer parents with children, colleagues with mortgages, neighbours with lawns. ‘They’ don’t have beloved pets or co-workers. ‘They’ don’t have passions or projects or dreams. ‘They’ are simply a homogenous mass who, by simple virtue of not being radical, is not part of the extreme ‘Us’.

Distortion and certainty in the ‘They’/’Us’ divide have created radicals of every race, country, religion, creed, economic class, age and gender.

In the wake and mourning of our brothers and sisters in Christchurch this week, the ‘They’ and ‘Us’ divide has never made less sense. As nations that occupy this little corner of the world together, we are used to being a “We” who share a high-temperature December; who have the southern cross on our flags; who play Rugby Union; and who will need each other when sea levels rise up.

It is hard to fathom that within our nations, there was radical enough thought to carve out a further and divisive ‘They’ from among “Us” with such certainty and to such a horrific end.

In a tolerant community, both the ‘Us’ and the ‘They’ in this scenario look like people “We” know. How do we tear down the divides between ‘Us’ and ‘They’? It is not the type of person that is dangerous, it is the radicalism and the extreme action it inspires.

We must continue to weaponise ourselves against radicalism, and we do that with peace. The opposite of radicalisation is not to be radical on the opposing end of the spectrum. The same trap lies there, too.

The opposite of radical is to reject radicalism and take up a moderate and a flexible view. The opposite of division is inclusion. The opposite of extreme is calm. The opposite of violence is peace.

Peace among us. Peace within us. Peace between us.