Opinion: We must learn to live together

A stature of St. Francis of Assisi at the entrance of the church and school that bear his name in Greenwood, Miss., Monday, June 10, 2019. Franciscan friars have been working in Greenwood since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A stature of St. Francis of Assisi at the entrance of the church and school that bear his name in Greenwood, Miss., Monday, June 10, 2019. Franciscan friars have been working in Greenwood since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Wong Maye-E

The St. Francis of Assisi statue is seen outside the rectory of the St. Mary of Assumption Church on Elm Street in Northampton.

The St. Francis of Assisi statue is seen outside the rectory of the St. Mary of Assumption Church on Elm Street in Northampton. KEVIN GUTTING

By MICHAEL L. FISCHLER

Published: 02-22-2024 6:00 AM

Michael L. Fischler of Holderness is professor emeritus of Counselor Education and School Psychology at Plymouth State University. He founded the university’s counseling center and taught courses on comparative culture.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pause for a moment and remember a time in your life when someone caused you to suffer greatly, and you chose to respond with extreme anger. Now consider how your extreme anger affected the quality of your life then and now.

Often when we choose to respond to emotional pain with extreme anger, our response ends up causing more suffering than the painful event that induced it. In China, individuals are encouraged to avoid responding in anger when provoked, as is reflected in the Chinese proverb, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”

In looking at the tragedy of Oct. 7 and Hamas’ depraved mass slaughter of Israelis, and Israel’s cataclysmic scorched-earth response, said incidents may be better understood by utilizing Longfellow’s “secret history of our enemies” above, as an interpretive lens, with:

Incidents perpetrated by individuals whose recent or long-term life histories included moments of intense sorrow and suffering, and where those intense moments of sorrow and suffering provided the rocket fuel necessary to commit punitive acts against perceived enemies, and where those punitive acts were motivated to perpetrate, reciprocate and exceed their own (and/or their groups) sorrow and suffering.

Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, and spiritualist Thich Nhat Hanh implored us to be mindful that, “When you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering. As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for them is there.”

Thus, who amongst us is not in need of receiving compassion and forgiveness for an act of anger, which was a byproduct of our own personal suffering, where we consciously or unconsciously acted in a way that terrorized others? Reciprocally, who amongst us is not in need to at least consider offering that same level of compassion and forgiveness to another, for their act of anger motivated by their own personal suffering, where they consciously or unconsciously acted in a way that terrorized others?

The terrorist within us may be best uncovered and managed through reflective, meditative practice and prayer. Amongst the most powerful, compelling, reflective and mediative prayers is The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which first appeared in the December 1912 issue of “La Clochette,” a small, French Catholic publication edited by Father Esther Bouquerel (who some believe may have been the prayer’s author).

Below you will find a portion of St. Francis’ prayer. Read it slowly, one line at a time, applying each edict to your life and determining the extent to which it is operative, and then pausing. During your pause evaluate the extent to which said edict stimulated thoughts of suffering and anger, or resolution and peace, and notice how what is stimulated has the potential to unleash feelings of serenity and security, or the terrorist within us.

where there is hatred, let me show love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

(and) it is in pardoning that we are pardoned...

In closing, I know that asking you to even consider understanding and forgiving the depraved and cataclysmic acts of others, especially if you have been a victim of those acts may feel like a bridge too far.” Yet, if we wish to find a way to move beyond the darkness that threatens our lives and world today, we would be wise to urgently consider taking that bridge too far.

All this is now imperative, as the security of our communities, nation, and world is threatened, and as Martin Luther King asserted in 1964: “We must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.”