Standing Rock: A Change of Heart, Part 4

Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, 15 November 2016. Author: Pax Ahimsa Gethen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

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.

This is the final post in a four-part series. You can read the original essay here and learn more about Charles at charleseisenstein.



This entry was posted in Champions of peace, Commemorating peace, Genocide, Human rights, Nonviolence, Pacifism, Perspective-taking, politics, Protest, Reconciliation and healing, Stories of engagement, Understanding violence and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Standing Rock: A Change of Heart, Part 4

  1. LB says:

    While not meant as a justification for cruelty or injustice, I think it worth considering how conditioned most of us have been to believe in a certain capitalistic way of life, one that places profit and power, comfort and pleasure over the wellbeing of humans and life. In that respect, ETP executives (though probably wealthier, more insulated and with more freedom to choose) may not be all that different than other Americans trying to do their jobs and live their lives, removed from and frequently oblivious to the oppressive, exploitive and interconnected system of which we’re all a part.

    Also, and as Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out in “Moral Man and Immoral Society”, it’s much easier for us to rationalize and justify our individual roles in inhumane actions when part of a larger group.

    A few years ago, after learning about the connection between human trafficking, child-slavery and chocolate (which marked the beginning of the end of the capitalistic illusion for me), I went around to different schools, churches and youth organizations in my area, hoping to drop off (free) educational materials. I was shocked at the underwhelming response and lack of interest ~ out of all the places I visited, only two people (both school principals) were as appalled as I was.

    Even now I have friends and family who know but continue to buy and consume chocolate made from cocoa most likely produced by enslaved children. If everyone else is doing it, it must be ok.. I use chocolate as an example because pleasurable as it may be, it’s not as if any of us need it to live.

    Whenever I start to get too self-righteous, I try to remind myself of all of the ways in which I’m complicit too. Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up when I can or make the effort to be more compassionate and mindful in my choices when I’m able. I think what Charles Eisenstein is talking about is having the strength and courage to understand and change ourselves.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you, LB, for another thoughtful and informative reply. I did not know that chocolate made from cocoa was most likely produced by enslaved children. But I will certainly educate myself on the problem now, and probably never consume another chocolate. And what else can be done to help those children?

      • LB says:

        Once again I’m encouraged by your response and interest, Kathie. To be honest, I haven’t followed the issue as closely as I once did, especially since I rarely consume chocolate anymore. When I do, there are more ethical choices available.

        Although exploitation can occur anywhere (and not just with cocoa), dependence upon child slavery in cocoa production is more common in certain regions of West Africa (primarily the Ivory Coast and Ghana), areas which supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. The cocoa is then bought and sold in the “free-market” and used by businesses to create chocolate *and* other products which *contain* chocolate.

        Companies buying “direct” or fairly traded cocoa sourced from other parts of the world (including Latin America and Hawaii) may offer some protection ~ as does buying organic and sustainably-grown.

        Vetting chocolate companies (and cocoa sources) is important. Keeping in mind certain labels/certifications can be bought, making them less meaningful.

        Although I’m not a vegan, I am aware of the sometimes complicated challenges involved in making moral choices related to consumption ~ the vegan website, “Food Empowerment Project” does a good job of outlining the problem of child slavery and cocoa in greater detail using inclusive language and without alienating non-vegans:

        I also refer to their chocolate list, which includes chocolate the organization does and doesn’t feel comfortable recommending and why:

        There’s also the documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate”:

        In terms of helping, we can start by becoming more informed, then talking about this and other issues, encouraging others to do the same. And of course, we can withdraw our financial support from companies that sell products associated with child-slavery and other forms of exploitation and oppression.

        Nestle is being sued right now:

        • dot walsh says:

          Thank you L.B. for answering with the chocolate that doesn’t involve child-slavery. I wanted Kathie to know she still can buy chocolate just watch for the fair trade label or know the right brand.

          • LB says:

            dot ~ Yes, assuming we have access (and in areas with limited options, folks may not), there’s no reason to give up chocolate.

            The FEP chocolate list I linked to is very helpful. Especially since certain certifications (which can be bought by larger companies) are sometimes misleading.

            Equal Exchange (a chocolate company based in Boston) has a pretty good reputation and is available in many smaller organic markets as well as some larger ones, like Whole Foods ~ also online.

  2. Barbara says:

    I strongly recommend that visitors to Engaging Peace take note of the name Charles Eisenstein under Part 4 of Standing Rock: A Change of Heart . Prepare to be dazzled when you click on this gentle man’s name. Whether you are young or old, male or female, liberal or conservative, white or green, you will discover biographical surprises and marvelous insights emanating from modest (“I’m just me.”) Charles Eisenstein. “In Taiwan, I met my dear friend and ex-wife Patsy, with whom I have three children, all boys.” How many ex-husbands refer to their former wives as dear friends? Another quotation from this appealing philosopher: “When we choose love in the face of enormous temptation to hate, we are issuing a powerful prayer for a world of love.”

  3. dot walsh says:

    Part Four contains a word that we sometimes underestimate and the word is “choice”. My belief strengthened by life experiences is that we have many more choices than we have the courage to discover. Thank you Charles Eisenstein for your insightful essay.

  4. kathiemm says:

    Tragically, with a new Administration in Washington, D.C., the stand-off at Standing Rock is reheating in the midst of freezing temperatures. The danger of violence is intensifying. Do not let preoccupation with other frightening political issues lead you to lose sight of the imminent risk to human life there and elsewhere. Read

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * logo