Random Killing and the Divided Self

For the past few weeks, I stopped all posting to review my original goals on social media to explore how we can have a free easy mind of peace amidst conflicts, loss, migration, injustice in the world and try to make a difference with the individual’s efforts.

Not only has US been battling with interest rates and election campaigns, here in Taiwan we have been barraged by over a hundred deaths from flus and shortage crisis of hospital beds, ICU or life support facilities, housing problems with soil liquefication and cinder metal wastes in building cements or land pollution as well as the potential risks of South China Sea and declaration of Gambia-China diplomatic tie.

The recent terror attacks in Belgium and Pakistan were my final wake up calls. Yesterday a four-year-old girl was decapacitated by another random killing with knives or cleavers by young students or unemployed drug addicts that had occurred in Taipei in the past couple of years or more. New born infant or toddlers were slabbed or abused to death by paid caregivers young or old.

Authoritative people, communities or societies are everywhere around the world. What do we do when we are stuck in a situation we can’t change or find a way out. Some people develop aggression when their anger or pain harbored for years cannot find outlets.The victims just happened to be convenient and vulnerable targets.

My own son is the same age as the young killers, he is an addict of model cars instead of drugs, he is angry even respectably employed and still in pain from loss from his father’s passing nine years ago. I would not be surprised if he would do something one day to harm himself or others like what we hear in the news, but I had done everything I could possibly do to help and he shut me out completely. I made him take responsibility for his own finance and life as well as employment at critical times unlike most parents who let their adult children live off their retirement money and accommodate passive employment search.Most people would think I messed up as a parent. There are a lot of talks of death penalty for the heartless killers and even penalties for their family for not doing a better job in prevention or upbringing.

The award winning film “In a Better World” sums up our dilemma on how to cope international or personal injustice. The movie addresses atrocities of refugees slaughtered by local villains for no reason in Africa or in Denmark bullies at school and an ill-natured Danish father slabbing a Swedish father over their sons’ competing for a swing. The son and his friend could not let go of the injustice, the Swedish father went to the violent man’s garage with the children wanting to show them how to settle the issue with nonviolence but he was slabbed a few more times. The two boys plotted a bomb explosion to revenge, but the Swedish boy was badly injured.

“Few individuals are able to change their institutions, let alone their societies……….recognition of what is politically and socially feasible, as well as the mastery of strategies of handling state agencies and the informal networks of power and influence………….is different than protest and resistance fostered by hatred for authority, resentment over past and present grievances, and the deep sense of a frustrated quest for social justice. It is …… moral resistance.” wrote Arthur Kleinman in his chapter on “Quest for Meanings” in “Deep China.” (Kleinman is a renowned scholar on culture,medical anthropology and psychiatry with expertise on China).

Owl Deep China.jpg

He also used the owl painting that depicts the common Chinese idiom of “one eye open and one eye close” when it is impossible to change anything. Kleinman’s western interpretation of the idiom as the moral worlds and the divided self is just as applicable in other countries (even in the West).

“One eye is open to the technical, financial and political realities of the time. It is absorbed not only in cell phone calls, emails, and surfing the internet, but also with protocols, audits, and public messages and performances. It is alive with practical self-interest, but also exquisitely attentive to the local politics of life at home and at work. This open eye takes in the “blooming buzzing” world,…… is so complex and confusing that its attractions are, more often then not, surrounded with worries and uncertainty. It sees things as they are, or as they pretend to be.

The other eye is closed, in our interpretation of the image’s relevance for today, so as to distance the person from the immediacy, expediency, and sheer practicality of getting on with life and negotiating the constant flow of threats and opportunities. Protecting the privacy of the person, the closed eye helps her or him consider apart from the powerful pull of context, what really matters…….of the self and concern for other. And it can create self-reflective criticism in the service of ethics, aesthetics, and meaning making. Caregiving, stewardship of the environment, and the responsibilities of the citizen for the common good are thereby animated. This closed eye sees things as they might or should be. But this quiet absorption of the self also encourages memories of things past that have left a residue of unexpressed disappointment, bitterness, resentment, and injustice. Hence the closed eye also sees things with irony, skepticism and regret.

The tension between the eyes is unrelieved and irresolvable.

In China or the East “You can’t openly talk about things that go against the grain.” but regardless of East and West, “Things are not what they seem to be.And people know that. So they internalize it. If you are going to get ahead, you accept all that: the lies, the hypocrisy……….You lose your idea of what is right and what is wrong. So inside yourself, even, maybe you keep one eye open on advancing your self-interest but the other eye is closed to your pain, the feeling you have that it is wrong and you should not be part of it. That’s the contradiction, the division inside.”

(I am extremely grateful to Kleinman’s insights that prompt me to await in the void and fast the mind for clarity before blogging any more on Freeasy Peace that is the open eye and Daily Living Charm the closed eye. There is a great need for me to align my passion, competence with needs in the world in order to make better use of my time and efforts. If I were not addicted to  reading, writing, Zen Tao teachings, philosophy, spirituality, poetry and literature, my pain and anger from conflicts, injustices and losses might have turned to aggression resulting in abuse of self or others as well. The world and many are quite sick but we don’t know what to do except cope with the divided self. Thank you all for your visits, likes and follows in the past months.)

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