There’s a great old blues song called “The Same All Over” with the refrain declaring happily “It’s the same all over, there’s people everywhere you go!” Which is true as can be. Who of us in this world that aren’t hermits or lighthouse keepers isn’t surrounded by a sea of humanity, with most of them being pretty wonderful in their own way? Makes you wonder why nations can’t get along, especially if you live in a place like New York City where there are people from virtually every nation on the planet living cheek by jowl and getting along just fine. Once you meet and interact with someone, you find out that 99% of the time you’re dealing with a decent human being living life as best they can according to their own lights.
It’s hard to hate someone who is friendly and interesting and who’s kid goes to the same school and plays with your kid. They might think a bit different than you, eat different foods, wear different clothes and pray in a different building, but, bottom line, they just want to be safe and warm and keep their famlies protected, fed and happy. Same destination, different road. You might trade stories, have a couple of laughs, learn a little something about one another and find more in common than you figured. There’s lots of people around who are different in some way or another, yourself included, and the world goes around right on schedule, raining and shining on whoever is out and about.
So what’s the problem with nations? Why all the war, the conquest, the terror and genocide? Does being part of a tribe mean there’s some other tribe you need to hate? And if so, why? How many centuries does that crap have to go on? Hasn’t everybody met each other at this point, talked things over, maybe had a cup of coffee and traded stories? The origins of these hatreds are centuries old, and no one alive today can recall the war, the insult or the specific incident that triggered a centuries-long tradition of hating the guy across the border. Or sometimes within the same nation. That’s pretty awkward.
It’s also absurd, and a contradiction of every moral tradition and every code of ethics known to humanity. Not a one of them says it’s okay to act like an ignorant jerk towards our fellow man. It’s only in large groups that we get unruly and savage. One on one we do just fine. We remember our moral training in personal encounters and treat the other person with dignity and respect and expect the same in return. And, 9 times out of 10 you find you’re not talking to any sort of monster, but a person much like yourself, who loves his family, wants to do what’s right and get along with people. Most of us have no wish to harm anybody. Why would we?
But you get involved in the gang mentality and trouble starts. Gangs bring out the very worst in human nature; greed, violence and mindless hatred. Leaders of gangs are generally people you wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes with on a personal level, but you just might buy what they selling because they tell you all sorts of crazy things in a very convincing way. They might tell you that you deserve to be better off and that a certain other gang is actively preventing that. Which strikes you as odd since you know people from the other gang and they seem pretty okay. You even have couple of very close friends from that other gang.
But now the rest of your gang is repeating what the leader said about the other gang and getting pretty testy about it. They’ve discovered huge gripes they didn’t know they had and are very thankful to the gang leader for setting them straight about who to hate and push around because they deserve nothing else. It starts with “They’re not one of us!” and in not all that much time turns into “They drink our babies’ blood!” The leader of the other gang is telling them the same things about your gang, lying little weasel that he is, and all of a sudden you’re not talking to your former friends from that gang.
You feel a little guilty about that since you know they are a couple of “the good ones” and would never drink your baby’s blood, but you don’t want your gang to punish you and call you a traitor to your gang. You never stop to wonder why you now think of them as “good ones'” since that means you accept the view that the rest of their gang is deserving of nothing less than being murdered in their beds with their entire families. You don’t even notice that you are no longer questioning that bit of your gang leader’s wisdom.
Then the leader of your gang announces that the other gang has done something unpardonable. You can’t be certain if that’s true or not since it seems pretty outrageous and out of character but he says it so often that the rest of gang is all up in arms and eager to retaliate so you figure it must be true with so many people believing it. Now you’re thinking “Who am I to doubt the leader of the gang? Everybody else knows he’s telling the truth. And to think that two of those rat bastards pretended to be my friend! Let’s start with them!”
And then something horrible happens, people die and get maimed and the other gang retaliates and your gang loses people and it goes back and forth and terrible carnage occurs, mothers bury children, families are torn apart and lives destroyed. Your gang is bloodied but unbowed and vows to visit the same terror upon the other gang and their mothers take a turn weeping over their children’s graves and sifting through the rubble of their own shattered lives. And this goes on for years until the horror is so widespread that everyone has buried a loved one, both gangs’ homes are devastated and people are profoundly traumatized and weary of the hate and the blood and the death.
And so, a little too late in the game, your humanity is rediscovered, your weapons laid aside and the horror and sickening grief at what you have done seizes you and fills you with shame and remorse. Only then does it occur to you to wonder how things ever got this way, how it reached the point of violence and bloodshed against another gang that was in reality decent people caught up in the same insanity as your gang and unable to stop themselves. And you wonder why you ever went along with your crazy leader and his lies, his insane hatred and his psychopathic blood lust, or why they went along with theirs.
So you scorn your leader and his wicked ideas, and blame him for the savagery. Perhaps one day your self-deception falls away and your eyes open. You come to realize that he did not perpetrate the carnage alone, could not do it alone. Then you ask yourself: “What did he unleash within me that made me so much less of a human being? I knew better! I had friends among those people! I loved them as I would any other cherished friend. I did not defend them. I did not sit them down with anyone from our gang and show them what good people they were. I did not insist that the members of my own gang live up to their goodness and their humanity and forget all this crazy talk about hatred and violence towards their fellow human beings. I did not warn them that they were acting shamefully, I embraced their shame! I did not follow my own goodness and my own humanity. Instead, I surrendered my ethics like a coward! And for what? There was no gain, no glory and no beauty, only death, suffering and pain that need not have happened. I did not speak out against the evil I saw growing like a cancer in our hearts. I did nothing to stop it when I could have.”
And so, humbled, you go back to doing what your mother taught you: Be good and play nice. It’s really as simple as that. And it’s the same all over, children taught by loving mothers to be good, to share and to love. These are the lessons our mothers assured we needed to learn in order to grow up. When you have a misunderstanding, to talk it over with the other person like adults. Get to know people, appreciate their differences, their insight, their existence in our shared world. Everyone has their own beauty and worth, and everyone is our brother and sister. It’s the same all over, there’s people everywhere you go. Treat them as you would have them treat you. There’s still no better idea than the Golden Rule. Now if we could only get nations to listen to Mom and grow up already we could really enjoy this world and this precious gift of life. Wage peace with a vengeance, with all your heart and soul.