“To Carry The Universe Or Be Crushed By It”

Very timely was the day of posting about peace on 4 November (see my last post Dona Nobis Pacem – 2016). Just four days before the American Elections.  I am a strong advocate of peace, and of peaceful interaction amongst individuals. I simply don’t see any other acceptable way. But I tell you, beyond this desire for peace is a desire for all people to be treated kindly and with compassion. It breaks my heart that this is not happening right now.

I know that my approach to treat all people with kindness and compassion, even my enemies and those intent on harming me, is a little unusual. I know a lot of people don’t understand my thinking. But then I know that I’m not alone in this quest for humanity. It may be that you consider me weird that I have no desire to harm those who might harm me or my loved ones.  I can assure you that people greatly qualified in weirdness have said previously that I am weird. It’s okay with me.

And maybe you think “what does a (white, heterosexual) kiwi from somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the United States know about anything?” Fair call, except what is happening in the US affects me too. What is happening there affects our whole planet. But perhaps more than anything the US political scene affects me because my American friends are suffering. I hate that. I hate that some of them are in the minority groups targetted by the President-elect.

Over the weekend I learnt a Facebook friend of mine had been told to kill herself by trolls commenting on a post about the Klu Klux Klan’s planned parade in North Carolina. Complete strangers (yes, more than one) telling her to kill herself! I was beyond shocked. I had earlier read it was happening, but when I learnt it affected my friend I admit I was crushed. It literally stopped me in my tracks, and I found it difficult to function for the rest of the day. Firstly, out of concern for my friend but then just pure horror that people treat each other with such disdain.

I kept asking myself, where is the compassion? And you may think that compassion has no place in what is happening in our world. I respectfully disagree, as I have suggested above.

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”

— Andrew Boyd (Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe)

I admit that I have been swaying between being crushed by what is going on in the world, and by being able to “carry it”. It’s tough for all of us. Especially those people in the US and people targetted by the President-elect. But for a moment, I need to take a slightly different angle to perhaps explain why it is so hard for some of us.

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) usually have a great deal of trouble with feelings they experience to the extreme. That is, we feel it perhaps more deeply than people without BPD.

Whatever your understanding of this personality disorder, and whatever your experience of people you know who have it, let me say that when there are such terrible things happening around the world, even in our own backyard, we have a very hard time. This can show itself in a variety of different ways, but for me, I have this overwhelming need to express compassion and to want to see other people do that too.

For the life of me, I can not understand this hatred, contempt, and antipathy for fellow mankind. I can not understand wanting to hurt another human being (or animal, for that matter). I even can not understand this desire to strike back at someone who harms, or threatens to harm me. It’s just not me.

I am no better than any other person on this planet, but I simply do not get it. I am sure that my particular BPD (and it is slightly different for all of us) is to blame for my desperate need for compassion to spread. And while it doesn’t, I admit I am crushed by it. It is completely overwhelming.

Last night I started to go through my Twitter feed, something I admit I have put off for a few days. There I came across a list of fifty people who were being targetted by those spreading hatred. These were innocent individuals who had done nothing wrong. They had maybe expressed fear or weakness in a recent tweet and that was now causing them to be targets of this movement to encourage people to kill themselves. I put myself in their shoes, and immediately had a sense of how they must be feeling. Punished for feeling afraid. It is simply wrong.

I can’t tell anyone else how to act, I can only choose for myself how I will be. But please, think about it. Don’t spread fire with fire. Just because another chooses to spread hatred, don’t be pulled down to their level. I am convinced that if I treat each other (including our enemies) with kindness and compassion then I can contribute to what can be a peaceful world.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I will still speak up against what I see as wrong. Always. But I hopefully do it in a way that doesn’t seek to harm anyone. I’m sure this is possible.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

— Martin Luther King Jr. (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches)

PS. Last night, after I started to draft this post, a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake struck New Zealand, north of Christchurch where I live. There has been major damage and so far, two people have died but I am happy (and amazed) to say that I slept through the whole thing. I have no idea how that happened.

Thanks to those people who have expressed their concern for me and my family today. I am a little shaky to be back in an active earthquake region. Here in Christchurch, we could definitely do without that.

Wishing those kiwis cleaning up after this, much love, a speedy end to the never-ending aftershocks and a peaceful night’s sleep tonight. Kia kaha (Be Strong).

Thanks for reading!

 

Cate

 

Kia Kaha

Kia Kaha    =    Be Strong

Kia Kaha’ in Maori means ‘Be Strong’ ( or sometimes ‘Stay Strong’).  It is a regularly used phrase here in New Zealand in a huge range of places.  For example, when the three kiwi soldiers who died in Afghanistan last week were returned home in recent days, Kia Kaha has often been repeated to their friends, families and colleagues.

It is a warm expression of support and encouragement, sometimes used as a greeting; used by Maori and increasingly by Pakeha (white-skinned New Zealanders) alike.  It is uniquely New Zealand, and I admit that I like that.  If regular readers hadn’t noticed I am proud to be a kiwi.

Kia Kaka chch
(Photo credit: KimMcKelvey)

Kia Kaha Christchurch

The phrase Kia Kaha Christchurch became a popular call after 22 February 2011, when we were struck by the deadly earthquake that killed 185 people.  At the time, and since because it continues to be heard today as we rebuild, it seemed like a nice expression of support that the rest of the country was giving us.  Actually even Prince William used the phrase when he addressed many Christchurch residents at a Memorial Service in the months after.  Someone had clearly told him that it would be a welcome phrase to use, and I’m sure many who heard the speech were encouraged by it.

Yet to be honest, the use of kia kaha after the earthquakes is nice in terms of support but it just  doesn’t quite sit right with me.

I read a comment on a blog recently that caught my attention and perhaps summed up what I was thinking but hadn’t dared to even think, let alone, express.   It said:

“… I just find the whole earthquake terribly cruel,
depressing, crushing, and awful, and nothing
to be kia kaha about” 
(1.)

I accept the phrase kia kaha in the manner in which I think it is meant, but when people have lost lives, limbs, homes, possessions, businesses… I’m not convinced that being strong is always the appropriate  response.

Don’t get me wrong, being strong was pretty much the only option for so many people in the days immediately following.  My own experience was that I had no choice than to be strong as I turned my attention to helping my elderly parents deal with the losses they had encountered.  Neither of them were thinking straight, yet there were many things that simply had to be done.  They had left their home with nothing, so had no clothes, no money, not even any identification.  There was help available for them fairly quickly but it involved dealing with bureaucracy.  Yes, even in a disaster someone is going to want forms filled in.

So I had no time to do anything but be strong.  There simply wasn’t any other choice.  But while being strong was appropriate in the early days, there came a time when it was necessary for me to feel the emotion that I had switched off and buried.  It was buried so well I hardly knew it existed.  It was only in rare moments with just my brother that I was even able to feel the stress that was building.

Six days later I was fortunate to get half an hour of my weekly appointment with my psychotherapist.  It didn’t matter that I was sitting in a field on my brother’s farm talking to my therapist by phone.  My friend Plonker was alone in being able to listen in.  It wasn’t the usual environment but the chance to talk about how I was feeling made a huge difference to me.  I didn’t have to be strong right then.

I worked out at that point where I needed to be strong, and where it was safe to have the feelings that were bubbling over.  That made an enormous difference to me, because I knew that there was space for me.

What concerns me is that not everyone has that space, and for many the term kia kaha is the only words they’ve heard.  A friend of mine (a man of about 60) told me some months later that he had been diagnosed with depression following the earthquakes and had come to accept that he didn’t have to be strong.  For the first time in his life he saw that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to be weak.  Having realised that, and with the help of medication and counselling he was starting to recover, but understanding that he didn’t have to be the stoic one in his family was the break through.

Today I came across a blog post saying a similar thing.  I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.  I guess it was something I fell upon but was exactly what I needed to read.  It fits perfectly with what I am saying, although I admit that the post is addressed to men.  Carlos Andrés Gómez says in his blog:

…I was fifteen when I heard about my closest childhood friend being killed in a car accident, and I will never forget this tremendous burden I felt to “stay strong” and “tough my way through it.”  I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was hurting.  I didn’t want to ask for help.  I accepted it as a given that I would bottle up all of my emotions and deal with them alone.  I took great pride (at the time) in the fact that I excused myself from the table to cry alone in the bathroom after my father told me the news. I never shed one tear in front of my sister and dad, and it somehow felt like undeniable proof that I was finally ready to be a man. I quietly celebrated that moment of shutting myself down emotionally, as though it were an accomplishment.  I wore it like a badge of honor that I could conceal the hurricane of emotions in my chest…”

Whether man or woman I think there are times when shutting down probably seems like the best course of action.  It’s what I did in the immediate days after that quake because there was simply too much else that needed to be done.  And while I welcome anyone greeting me with kia kaha I’m not sure that it is the phrase I need to hear now.  Now I need to hear that I don’t need to be strong.  Even if it is only me that gives me that permission, I need to know that it is okay to be as I am.

This doesn’t just apply to the aftermath of natural disasters.  It applies in day to day life.  I spend a lot of my time concerned with the well-being of other people, and have recently attached a note to my computer screen.  It says “sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else“.  For me, this is the message I need.  I don’t always need to be strong for others.  Sometimes it is okay to simply look after me.

PS. If I have offended anyone in my interpretation of the term kia kaha, I apologise.  My intention has not been to criticise the use of the term (which is one I use and appreciate), but to explore the use of it.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are
strong at the broken places.” 

―    Ernest Hemingway,    A Farewell to Arms