I remember, over a decade ago, the first time I encountered the Wiccan Rede.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will
I thought that made sense; felt, somehow, that for all the differences between religions, spiritualities, and worldviews of various natures, that this was the key, the thrust behind the cross-contextual, multinational affirmation of the Golden Rule. Whatever you do, whatever you thrive upon: what does it matter, so long as no one is harmed by it? And if we treat one another with a sense of non-violent aversion to harm, then goodness gracious: we’re bound to cultivate some care in the process.
In the wake Orlando, I read the advice of that Rede with new inflections. I see the gold of that Rule cast, lit by the angle of a different light.
Harming none means none. No one. No harm.
Even to one’s self.
Doing unto others what you would have them do unto you requires that one knows what they’d want, what they might need. So often, in so many contexts and from so many sources, religious and otherwise: we are taught to accept others, receive others—but we struggle even, with this. And do we struggle, in part, because we do not remember that, axiomatically, in order to fulfil the Golden Rule—to do unto others as we would have then do unto us—we must first know for ourselves how we’re meant to be treated; how we feel we deserve to be treated at the very primary point of contact, the initial model of how the self is valued and engaged?
For how else do we learn how to act, how else do we know how we want to be treated, aside from the ways in which we treat ourselves?
We circulate the message of love and goodness and care as the necessary response in times like these. This is necessary, this is honourable, this is human. And yet, to turn those maxims in response to ourselves smacks of narcissism. Indulgence. Something to be earned, or else ashamed of, for availing in the luxury needlessly.
Or else: this is the message we’re too often sent.
And while I think the platitude that one can’t properly love without first learning to love oneself is a simplification—still, in saying that much, I think it does bear some fruit. Because if we don’t feel warmth and acceptance and care and joy in ourselves, even if we’re able to convey it to others (perhaps even to convey it very well), I believe we’re likely hindered. Whatever wonders we work in supporting others, if we are not loving toward our own selves, if we do not understand the model we’re aiming to enact in “doing unto others,” then our potential, I suspect, is unfulfilled.
And so the question arises: do we ever learn how to cultivate these necessary understandings in reference to the self? And if not: should we be surprised that we cannot break this cycle of violence on the whole, between persons, seemingly without end?
I’m going to go out on a limb, and say no. Not broadly. Not consistently. We’re a culture of extremes, and so we tend to vacillate closer to poles: self-absorption to the exclusion of meaningful relation, or self-denial to the point of misery.
I’ll argue, so long as we’re aware of their limitation, that we can use dichotomies for simplicity’s sake. They’re shallow, they’re not all-encompassing—they barely scratch a surface. But where radical change overnight might sound appealing, the truth of human nature is that much more often, things can only follow, can only change and hold that change, by steps. Drops of experience, built upon brick by brick. One cannot jump A to Z, Alpha to Omega, without the step-stones in between. Too often, too much is lost that way—the centre cannot hold.
Things just fall apart again.
So for the sake of wrangling a beast we’re not even close to reining, let alone making tame: there are two catalysts of particular note for the place in which we find ourselves—this space in which the Golden Rule turns silvered, turns tarnished, and we cannot reach in kindness or compassion or in humble offering and need to those around us. Two catalysts, two categories that stoke the flame.
The selfish, and the self-loathing.
The selfish care only for their pleasure, for their norms and mores, for their ability to satisfy their desires to the detriment of others: hedonistic. Perhaps this is for too much love of self, or short sightedness, or merely the inevitable metaphysical contrast with what it means to deny, or to restrict, or even hate one’s own being. The selfish most often have the power, though, and they arguably, as a result, perpetuate the system. They send the momentum back to the other end of the spectrum.
The self-loathing, then—that other-end—is the man who throws himself against his circumstances, and presumably his culturally and familially affirmed faith, in excess; who lashes out and hides his honest self and desires for the internalised oppression that churns itself to a kind of hate that expresses itself in violence—and it is not right, and it is not fair, and there is no defence for it. Yet such self-loathing too often implodes all worth of self, only to then explode into violence once that hate has consumed its host, and yet still must feed.
Simon Weil wrote that the brutalizing power of dehumanization, this kind of self-loathing and loss of the capacity to know or love the self, “obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. The conquered brings misfortune to the conqueror,” and as such, none within this violent cycle are spared the “common lot” of its horrors.
Right now, we are caught inside this cycle. We are the common lot.
I don’t know how to break the cycle. I do not have the answers.
I only know that we have more soul searching to do, and deep digging to wade through, than our prevalent rhetoric is trying to fool us into believing.
Because this problem is bigger than a few labels and the assignation, the identification of hate. Bigger than a cursory acknowledgement of the systemic dynamics that intersect and create devastation that is all the more unfathomable, all the more unwieldy to logic or understanding for the way its layers compress and bleed together as they make to undo a thing, a self that once was whole.
I look to my neighbours, here, in the wake of what happened an ocean away. They mourn. We all mourn. They gather in the streets in solidarity, in love. They remember when they felt this way, when this happened to them. In Scotland, their mourning led to action, led to change.
In America, our mourning leads to anger. Seems most often to simply precede more violence.
And all I can gather from this is that our selfishness, our self-loathing, even our love that leads to despair, that leads to apathy because we cannot possibly hurt any longer: all I know?
Is that our selfishness blinds us. Our self-loathing chains us. Neither will free us to feel and to grieve, and be so moved as to do what must be done to affect necessary change if we are to put this dark time behind us as a thing learned from, even for all of its shame.
We have more barriers than I think we rightly own to, before we can place this dark part of our history behind us. But—and perhaps it’s a cliché beyond its place and context, here; too tired for what we are so tired of seeing, of feeling: but.
“Despair is a victory for hate.
Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Loves gives us hope that change is possible, Love allows us to change the script.
Love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”
There is a script. It has been done. It is not easy.
But since when was what was right, what was worthwhile, ever easy?
The long haul is overwhelming, overpowering. It can cause us to freeze with hopelessness in how unconquerable, unreachable, unattainable it seems.
But one step at a time, friends. One step at a time: do love.
At the very least, it will keep us moving. And if we move toward love, with love? The laws of mechanics are unflagging.
Momentum has to build.