Since birth, it seems, I’ve been very emotionally reactive to witnessing injustice. As an adolescent this seemed like a typical human trait, as so many young people carry anger toward the adults for things that seem unfair. Yet, now that I am middle aged, I see that my extreme emotional reaction to injustice has been consistent throughout my entire life, and I don’t see that same trait as being predominant in everyone else.
There are some others, though, who seem to share this trait. In some cases it may be due to their ability to be sensitive, but that’s not always the case. I am often insensitive to emotional reactions of others when it seems necessary, such as in a work environment where what’s being discussed is business and not personal, and I’m not triggered by another person’s meltdown. Being sensitive is an honorable trait, it generally leads to kindness and grace within diplomacy.
Wanting justice is neither kind nor mean, and being triggered by injustice may be honorable as well. Yet, allowing anxiety to drain us, anger to consume us, and bitterness to rule us isn’t going to help anyone. For me, I seek to find a balance in being self aware and empathetic, while also taking action to protect someone in danger or help someone in need. I’ve always felt that anger was helpful in some of these cases, but now I’m starting to rethink that.
When we get angry about some injustice, like a child being bullied by a teacher at school, we do have empathy for the child, while at the same time being angry at the adult. Justifiably so, we should take action to protect a child when we can. The unnecessary aspect, and the part that makes our good deed less noble, is the anger. We’re no better than the person we’re angry at by marching into the school and giving that bully-teacher a tongue lashing. When we do that, we’re the bully, and then we also carry the karma of that negative action forward with us, which will only lead to more bullying and more anxiety. Walking away from the situation, and doing nothing is also going to create negative karma, and instances of children being bullied will continue. We must find the balance and the virtuous way to react to injustices.
We shouldn’t get caught up in the ‘an eye for an eye’ philosophy. Meaning, we are not the keeper and distributer of karma. If we try to take over that job, we just experience the consequences of trying to punish another, which is then to be ‘punished’ by another. One of the ways to overcome anxiety about injustices is to trust the way of karma to do it’s thing. So in this sense we think of all the elements to the above example and we trust that the bully will receive negative consequences to his/her negative actions. We trust that the child is experiencing his/her own karma and that the child will grow, evolve and be ok. We trust that the action we take to prevent this from happening again to the child will create positive future karma. It’s possible the most effective action would be to approach the school principle for a calm, compassionate conversation to report the incident; and then, if nothing changes, have as many peaceful conversations with as many people in the community as is necessary to cultivate a change.
In life, there will be small injustices that occur. We witness little insults all the time during our day while driving, shopping, working, or doing anything that requires interactions with other living beings. If we were to get anxiety over every injustice we’ll end up with poor psychological and physical health. Because in cases where we simply can’t stop or cure an injustice, and we feel we have no way to prevent future injustices, we tend to hold onto it and think about it, wishing we would have said this or done that, and thinking about what we’ll do next time. Yet, this does no good. It’s harmful for the mind to reel in negativity, and for the body to feel stress and anxiety throughout it’s fibers. The only way to have a positive outcome to witnessing an injustice is to stay positive, and that just seems counter intuitive.
I went to a Buddhist teaching recently that helped me with this and other aspects of my mind that seem difficult to change. In considering our waking state as being the same as our dream state, except that it comes from the gross mind, while the dream state comes from the subtle mind, we can detach from the waking dream the same way we do when we wake up and remember some awesome dream we were having about an amazing person we met. We think, “what a great dream, I wish I could go back to sleep and continue it…” and then we go about our day. We don’t try to find the person we met in our dream on the internet, we don’t obsess about what happens in the dream life. Most of the time we don’t remember our dreams at all. This is how it can be in our gross mind, our waking mind.
We can witness things happening around us, even to us, without getting attached to the person or the circumstances. We can do this by acknowledging that these are simply people and circumstances and we’re not meant to feel a certain way about any of it. This doesn’t mean we don’t care about people and circumstances, it means we don’t get attached to our own projections.
For example, if we’re in a conversation with someone we’re attracted to and that person is talking about how attractive some celebrity is, this is just a person acknowledging the attractiveness of another person, which is a relatively normal and benign, perhaps even kind and a socially acceptable thing to say. Yet, this simple communication can be blown up into all kinds of imaginary offenses due to our own insecurities. We may take it as a sign the other person is superficial, or that they’re insensitive to compliment someone who they’ll never meet when they could be complimenting us, or we may just feel the anxiety of mistrust in thinking this person is fickle and will surely flit away once someone more attractive comes along. From projections like these, negative thoughts ensue, negative feelings ensue, and negative energy ensues – putting up a rock block to connection and acceptance.
If we want to truly connect with people we will need to remain at peace. The state of mediation is peaceful, it’s a state of detachment. Quiet beaches are peaceful, even with crashing waves. The mind can be peaceful even with crashing waves of chaos around it. The dream can be fun, or terrifying, or exhilarating, or sad – on any given day. We can go through the day enjoying what we want to and forgetting about the rest as we have new dreams at night to wash away the day and we get ready for our next day dream when we wake. The more positive the mind, the more positive the dreams. Some days injustices happen and we’re the hero, some days the villain seems to win. On more enlightened days we wish for neither and accept both.