Some years ago I recall the Dalai Lama observing that hating war isn’t the way to find peace.
From this I took it that he meant personally entering into the territory of hatred and fear, the same emotions that fuel war, is not the most useful way to change a paradigm. I liked the Dalai Lama’s theory: that in order to effect wider change one must first start with the self. Every time we manage to overcome a negative emotion, he said, and allow it to dissipate without acting on it, we have achieved a miracle.
There’s nothing exclusive about the idea. There was a rich Greco-Roman tradition of shaping the self through commitment to self-improvement that involved, among other things, a theory of emotions and the necessity to understand them for the betterment of the self and the community. The Stoic philosopher and writer, Seneca, was an advocate of this culture of the self, later interpreted by Foucault as technologies of the self, designed to shape the subject through a set of practices that position one in critical relationship to oneself, with the goal of improvement not just for the self, but for society.
Currently, I am deep in Martha Nussbaum’s “Upheavals of Thought: the intelligence of emotions.” Nussbaum makes a powerful argument that there can be no adequate ethical theory without an adequate theory of the emotions. Emotions, far from being messy, sticky and yes, let’s not pretend otherwise, characteristically female hindrances to clear thinking, are suffused with intelligence and discernment. They are a powerful source of information, awareness and understanding.
On ANZAC Day, I feel sorrow for those who are sent to die by the State, and for those who lose the ones they love. I also feel a profound contempt for the State that slaughters its young, and the young of its enemies. I wish that what we were encouraged to remember on ANZAC Day, as well as those who died, is the vileness of war, and the tremendous responsibility we have to refrain from engagement, except in the most dire of circumstances.
However, hard as it is, I will attempt not to hate war, in the hope that any individual who manages, even for a short time, to refuse to enter the energy of hate, makes her own tiny contribution to changing the world.
Join me, anyone?