September 11: What the World Needs Now
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a group of Ashland friends met with Jean Houston to just be together and voice some thoughts about the happenings of the day. Jean challenged me, as a physician who works with cancer patients, to apply a metaphoric version of cancer treatment to the present situation.
Hatred is the cancer in the psyche of humanity. Like its physical counterpart, it starts with a few cells, and if unopposed, blossoms into death. As with cancer, a small proportion of hatred may have a familial tendency. Some children learn to hate from the cradle as they are taught to embrace the ideology and actions of their families. But the greatest percentage of the etiology of cancer (80%) is environmental and the same is no doubt true of hatred. The environment in which both of these conditions grow is one which identifies other cells and other people as different – as somehow not deserving of our respect or our love – an environment in which the "other" is overtaken and eventually "killed." This environment is not limited to Afghanistan or the Middle East – it is worldwide. Hatred knows no country borders or boundaries.
The world is reeling this week in the wake of the death of a portion of the global body from the disease of hatred. The response of many is to destroy the perceived primary cause of that death by unleashing the weapons of retribution – to fight hatred with more hatred. This can be likened to killing cancer cells with harsh chemicals and radiation. The innocent will also be injured. With this treatment, pockets of cancer cells remain hidden to appear again another day. The same is true of hatred. We have not addressed the root cause.
Weakening of the immune system through environmental assaults is one of the prime factors in allowing the cancer cells that course daily through our bodies to "set up housekeeping." A strong immune system makes this colonization much less likely. Love is the immune system of the psyche that, if nurtured and kept strong, can erase pockets of hatred. All of us, everyday, on a microcosmic level, are subject to circulating cells of hatred. Erecting boundaries around our selves, our property and personal belongings, our expertise, our compassion, and a host of other material and non-material "possessions." we stifle the love that is the answer to the cancer of hatred. We are all responsible. We are all called to change – change of a magnitude never yet experienced in recorded history.
In our small town with more than its share of educated and enlightened citizens, a man from a large city buys property and labors long hours to build his dream home. A few disrespectful people walk upon and deface his property. The seeds of hatred are planted. He builds a fence – they tear it down. Threats are exchanged. Hatred "sets up housekeeping" as love's immune system is overwhelmed. Where will it end? I bring my attention to my own behavior. How many times a day have I responded to those I perceive as "others" with irritation, judgment, arrogance, lack of attentiveness, lack of love? In the big picture, is my micro-level behavior significant? I believe it is. As a matter of fact, it's the only thing that does matter, because it's the only thing over which I have direct control. I can choose to love or not. In the last few days, as pictures of the end result of terrorism flash across my brain, I am continually drawn to focus on loving. This love is not weak and passive, but strong and active. It requires great courage to be a peaceful warrior.
For some years, it has become apparent that the war on cancer – bombarding it with drugs and x-rays – has not worked. We have more cancer than ever before and it is estimated that in a few years approximately one out of every three people will be challenged by cancer at some time in their lives. Prevention is the key and the foundation of prevention is changing the environment, i.e. what goes into our physical bodies. Likewise, the key to overcoming hatred in our world and the death and destruction to which it leads is building a strong psychic immune system based on love – every human action, every day, every minute, every second, continually infused with love – love that extends to everyone including children, mothers, fathers, the oppressed, the oppressors, the leaders, the followers, the people we perceive to be unlike ourselves.
My prayer is that as we go forward into this new world order which has been thrust upon us, we will not be talking of victims and vindication, but of healing the wounds of war through strengthening our collective immune system with the transforming power of love. It's what the world needs now, as the old song goes.