Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of cruelty and kindness

Anyone who has opened a news website, magazine, or paper or who has listened to the daily news on the radio or TV has surely encountered some terrible acts of human cruelty. This is nothing new, nor is the fact that such acts capture our attention and imagination. What we often hear after learning of some depraved event is the lamenting of human nature or some blanket statement of our general horribleness.

While I find these terrible acts as horrifying as anyone else, I must disagree with the tendency to bemoan our species, though I have certainly indulged the habit plenty enough myself. In response to fearmongering about crime, I have often pointed out that, while one person was robbed, a hundred thousand came and went about their day totally harm-free, but you never see the headline: 328,345 People Were Not Mugged Today!.

Stories of animal abuse break my heart more than just about anything, and it is hard to not think unkindly toward the person who so badly burned the beagle mix who has become known as Hope to her caretakers at the Fayette Friends of Animals (please consider making a donation to help pay for her medical bills). It is true that burning an animal that badly is reprehensible, heartbreaking, horrifying, bewildering. It is easy to focus on the wrongdoer and become angry, indignant, and to wish revenge upon him or her. But while it took but one person to light the match (or whatever it was), hundreds (maybe thousands) of people are helping to heal this little dog. Tragedy churns up grief and we naturally focus on what has been lost and destroyed. We are outraged that what once was whole has been torn asunder. Certainly this is a wrong, but why do we choose to dwell so long and cling so hard to that misery?  Why do we remain blind to the outpouring of love and generosity that inevitably follows? You can remain mad that a wrong has been done, but you'll remain mad forever as the world offers no shortage of sadness and grief. On the other hand, if you are able to move past your grief to see the good that swirls in to fill the hole, heal the wounds, rebuild the broken, you may find yourself crying every day at the abundance of love around you.

Your mind is your world. You create what you see around you by what you do and what you choose to focus on.  If you want love, give it to someone you think does not deserve it.  If you want wealth, be generous.  If you want peace, be peacemaker. If you do not see the kindness, compassion, generosity, and love in others, perhaps you need to shift your attention from others to yourself.  To whom have you given care and solace?  With whom have you shared the bounty of your life?  If you do not feel bountiful, take some time to practice gratitude--if you are reading this, you are probably doing pretty well if you think about it.

So I invite you the next time you hear of a terrible event to consider to what and to whom you give your attention and energy. You can remake your world. Terrible things will continue to happen, but they do not need to create ugliness within you.  They can instead be doors to greater compassion and softness.  Suffering is terrible, but we can choose to respond to it in ways that help to alleviate it or increase it--for ourselves and others.

My heart goes out to that poor little burned dog, for the pain and fear that she must have experienced. My heart goes out to those who perpetrated the act--how broken and damaged they must be to do something so callous. My religion teaches that they have now reaped negative karma upon themselves that will increase their suffering.  Until they find a way to purify that, the cycle will continue and they will bring harm to themselves and to other beings.  How can I want anything but their healing and wholeness?  May they know the love and its causes. May they be free from suffering and its causes.  May they never be separated from sorrowless bliss.  May they abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment and anger. My heart is filled with gratitude and joy for all those who have come to Hope's aid, and for the rescue shelter that does not kill.

May you have love and its causes. (Maitri)
May you be free from suffering and its causes. (Karuna)
May you never be separated from sorrowless bliss. (Mudita)
May you abide forever in equanimity, free from bias, attachment, anger, and fear.(Upeksha)

May your love be fierce and your anger cooled.
May all beings benefit from your goodness.



  1. UPDATE! This from FFOA:

    "Hello! Apologies for the delay in response. Hope is doing wonderfully, she just has a small little area still healing up at this point. We are very surprised that her fur is growing back in some places at least!
    She is currently pending adoption! They are trying to get their current dog (adopted from us) to get along with her. Meanwhile, she goes home with the vet every night."


Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.