11 Jun 2017 20:24 IST

Making sense of sensibility

Why eliminate when we can simply live parallel lives?

Whenever we stepped out without an umbrella during the ‘supposed to be the monsoon’ season, my dad would say, “You need to have faith. Have faith that it will rain. It will rain.” It upset him that we always assumed it wouldn’t rain, our logic being when has it ever gone according to the weatherman’s predictions. I thought he was being naïve and questioned his notions of faith. In typical late-teens/early twenties fashion, I labeled them outdated and out of place.

It’s been decades since. Just a couple of days ago I saw this notice outside a church in picturesque Berkeley: “Love thy neighbor (No exceptions)”. Some homes in the neighbourhood have posters or notices displayed on their window panes declaring that immigrants are welcome, and there will always be room for everyone here.

Anywhere else, this may seem like wearing your heart on your sleeve, or some kind of tokenism, or even extremely politically correct. However, this is Berkeley, once and still largely home of the ultra liberals despite the gentrification and the more moderate waves lapping at the feet of UCB students. This is one of the centres that saw huge protests against the Vietnam war in the 1960s, when, inspired by beat poet Allen Ginsberg and political and social activist Abbie Hoffman, thousands of young people advocated ‘flower power’ and became part of what is now known as the Summer of Love. Basically what they were saying was: make love not war. They were rallying for peace.

Unchanged sentiments

That intent hasn’t changed, at least in the minds and hearts of the majority of humanity. Only, the war is no longer being fought in distant shores, it’s spilling over at our doorsteps, it’s stalking us as we shop, and sing, and sight-see, and celebrate festivals. It’s all around us, getting closer and closer.

Recent instances of terrorism have been random, cruel, bloody and unstoppable. Jeffrey Corbyn can rail and rant at Theresa May’s cutting back on the police force when she was in the home office, but how much security does it take to prevent someone from running their vehicle amok in a crowded street or a passerby knifing people at will? When, as in Iran recently, the parliament was targeted?

There are neither rules nor reasons. It’s an unmitigated game of power for power’s sake: to kill because it’s possible to kill, to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary folk who wish only to live their lives, drink their beers, dance their joys, make their existence mean something. Ironically, it appears the perpetrators of these acts of violence think this is the way to make their existence mean something.

In forgiveness

But that’s where they’re mistaken. They seem to have misunderstood a fundamental Newtonian principle: the business of every action having an equal and opposite reaction. In the recent instances of the attacks in the UK and elsewhere, ordinary folk have mostly responded in exactly this way. They have met each dastardly thrust with a determination to not be afraid, not retaliate, and to not hate. In several instances, families of victims have publicly forgiven the killers of their loved ones. Not everyone, for sure, there is anger aplenty going around. Still, the expressions of forgiveness are amazing and humbling. They’re the ones from whom the larger world, thankfully populated by thinking, mindful individuals, groups and communities, takes the cue to respond to violence with nonviolence, hate with love, enmity with friendship, aggression with forgiveness. It’s based on the ultimate example set by Jesus on the cross when he said: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

The Daily Mail reported, after the Westminster attack, that the family of slain US tourist Kurt Cochran put out a statement saying: “We know that Kurt wouldn’t bear ill feelings towards anyone and we can draw strength as a family from that… His whole life was an example of focusing on the positive. Not pretending that negative things don’t exist but not living our life in the negative – that’s what we choose to do.” They said this with full and real understanding of the circumstances and the situation. No matter how provoked we may be, this is our cue.

Have hope

It was moving to watch the crowds throng Old Trafford in Manchester in response to Ariana Grande call for a charity concert for those killed in the terrorist bombing at her show in that city just two weeks prior. She and the musicians who supported her, such as Coldplay, Justin Bieber, Liam Gallagher, Katy Perry, Pharrel Williams and many others, raised nearly 3.5 million pounds. More than the money, it was the emotion, the strength of character and the desire for an integrated society that was palpable.

And this happens every time an incident like this occurs, anywhere in the world. People just want to be left to live their lives. Period. In an ideal world, we would all love each other. But we don’t live in an ideal world, therefore we could take a tip from the natural world. Cats and dogs typically don’t love each other. So they keep out of each others’ way. Snakes and mongooses don’t trust each other. So they steer clear. Why can’t we do the same? After all, even in a neighbourhood, it’s not really possible to know and love everybody, is it? Even if the Highest Authority commands it? Follow your own dreams but don’t shatter others’. There’s room for everybody. Besides, no Authority condones murder, let alone prescribe it, no matter how high the pulpit and how commandeering the sermon.

Right now, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco is showing Bob Smeaton’s 2010 documentary on the legendary Jimi Hendrix, Voodoo Child. For a while the American-English rock band, Jimi Hendrix Experience, featured Jimi with Neil Redding (bass and vocals) and Mitch Mitchell (percussion), both white. This was the 1960s, remember, when race relations were historically tenuous. However, Jimi Hendrix was not making a political statement; the music they made naturally brought them together and that was all. And that’s how it seems it would best be.

When will we begin to understand the sense that sensibility makes?