by Charles Eisentstein
The way we see and treat someone is a powerful invitation for them to be as we see them. See someone as deplorable, and even their peace overtures will look like cynical ploys. Distrust generates untrustworthiness. On the other hand, when we are able to see beyond conventional roles and categories, we become able to invite others into previously unmanifest potentials. This cannot be done in ignorance of the subjective reality of another’s situation; to the contrary, it depends on an empathic understanding of their situation. It starts with the question that defines compassion: What is it like to be you?
That question is anathema to the militant and the warmonger, because it rehumanizes those that they would dehumanize. Broach it, and they will call you soft, naïve, a fool or a traitor.
What it is like to be a police at Standing Rock? Or what it is like to be an ETP executive? Can you bring yourself into the knowledge that they are our brothers here on earth, doing their best under the circumstances they have been given? I imagine myself in the ETP executive suite. The stress level is high. The board of directors are freaking out. The banks are threatening to pull their funding. We’ve spent tens of millions leasing capital equipment. Maybe we have bond payments due. Business is tough enough as it is, and now these protestors come in who don’t realize that pipelines are safer than rail tankers. They use gasoline too, the hypocrites! And they’re making us into the bad guys! And look how hate-filled they are! Yup, it’s obvious who the good guys are.
I am not endorsing this viewpoint. I am merely trying to understand it. One product of that understanding that is uncomfortable for the ego of the militant is that it would take courage for the ETP executives to halt the project — to do so would require sacrificing their self-interest as they understand it. Similarly, it might take courage for a policeman to defy orders or disbelieve propaganda or break ranks. In a way, we are all in the same boat; we are all facing situations that invite us to choose love over fear, to listen to the heart when it feels unsafe to do so. We need to help each other obey that call. In that, we are allies. We can be allies in calling each other to our highest potential.
Another friend described his encounters with pepper-spraying police at Standing Rock. He noticed that in each instance, it was only one or two police who were doing most of the violence. The others were standing around looking uncomfortable, probably wishing they were somewhere else.
What would activist tactics look like if they were based on the conviction, “Most of the police don’t really want to be doing this”? What would it look like to express in word and deed an underlying certainty that each of them is here on earth to carry out a sacred mission of service to life? How would it feel to them to be told, “I am sorry you are being put in this position. I am sorry you are under such pressure to contravene your heart. But it is not too late. We forgive you and welcome you to join us in service to life.”
As I write this, the first of two thousand U.S. military veterans are entering the camps at Standing Rock. They have vowed to stand with and protect the Water Protectors with their own bodies. They are not bringing weapons. Many of them are leaving jobs and families in order to help protect the water. If they too can keep peaceful hearts, they will magnify the invitation to the government, the company, and particularly the police to make the courageous choice themselves.
Victory at Standing Rock will have far-reaching consequences. It may seem inconsequential in the macro view if the pipeline is merely rerouted or replaced with rail tankers (which are even worse than pipelines). On a deeper level though, a victory will establish a precedent: if it can happen at Standing Rock, why not globally? If a pipeline can be stopped against great odds in one place, similar violations can be stopped in every place. It will shift our view of what is possible. That’s one reason why I agree with the Sioux elders’ preference to keep the movement focused on the water and not let it be hijacked by climate change activists. Climate change is the result of a million insults to a million places on earth. Honoring the place of Standing Rock establishes a principle of honor to all places.
Writ large, the situation at Standing Rock is the situation of our whole planet: everywhere, dominating forces seek to exploit what remains of the treasures of earth and sea. They cannot be defeated by force. We must instead invite a change of heart by being in a place of heartfulness ourselves – of courage, empathy, and compassion. If the Water Protectors at Standing Rock can stay strong in that invitation, they will demonstrate an unstoppable power and win a miraculous victory, inspiring the rest of us to follow their example.
What if I am wrong? Not every nonviolent action succeeds in its explicit aims; not every invitation, no matter how powerful, is accepted. Yet even if the pipeline goes through, if the Water Protectors stay off the warpath another kind of victory will be won – the creation of a psychic template for the future. With each choice we face, we are being asked what kind of world we want to live in. The more courage required to make that choice, the more powerful the prayer, because Whoever listens to prayers knows we really mean it. Therefore, when we choose love in the face of enormous temptation to hate, we are issuing a powerful prayer for a world of love. When we refuse to dehumanize in the face of atrocity, we issue a prayer for universal dignity. When thousands of people sacrifice their safety and comfort to protect the water, a powerful prayer issues from their gathering. Some day, in some form, it will be answered.