Every year, when it is my birthday, I write reflective thoughts. Sometimes they’re satirical, sometimes they’re autobiographical, sometimes I publish them, and most times I don’t.
I have been “politically active” since college, but only “known” for my political activism since 2012 when my post about “Israeli Mezze” at Harvard went viral. To date, it remains my most viral post and potentially my favorite one. It made the headlines in international media worldwide, wonderful, awful, and hilarious headlines. Facebook had estimated that “tens of millions of people” had read my post, and one media called it “the first true Arab victory over Israel.” While this post propelled me into the epicenter of modern effective political activism, it also introduced me to the indomitable dichotomy of the world of online virulence: a brazen tsunami of love, acclamation, and support from people who agree with you, and an unabashed volcano of hatred, dehumanization, and threats from those who disagree with you.
Emotionality in beliefs is a terrible and dangerous pendulum. Your body convinces you that your mind harbors the only possible truth. You start affirming to yourself that your belief is the absolute, predominant, and unique “correct” and “good” belief, and this makes you the “good guy.” Resultantly, bullying, belittling, dehumanizing, shaming, and mocking all those who disagree with you is morally right and justifiable because you’d be taking out the bad guy. After all, isn’t this the classic tale of heroism? The good guy punishes the bad guy? This narrative is weaved into our psyche, our history, our legends, our folk tales, our fiction, our nonfiction, and our religions: we live to find, identify, and punish the bad guy, we applaud the good guy who takes out the bad guy, and we build our entire identities, cultures, and narratives on delineating the good guys from the bad guys, and we design our societies to actively exclude and hate the bad guys. History is written entirely by the winners, who by their own identification are always the good guys; but if they had lost, they would have without question been the bad guys. Even our biological survival instinct gives us a hormonal rush from punishing the bad guy, we tell stories to our children of bad guys who lose to the good guys, and when we are not actively fighting them, we group to sound our contempt and disdain for the bad guy with people who agree with us. That is why children collectively gang up on one helpless kid in recess. That is why entire societies have repressed entire weaker races. That is the story of civilizations. That is the dangerous power of “groupthink.” And because you’re wired to stay alive, your body will make sure you always believe that you’re never the bad guy. So, when you get beaten up, it’s injustice. And when the bad guy gets beaten up, it’s justice.
If there was one single universal destructive narrative that I hate the most, it’s the tale of the good guy versus bad guy. I find it sadistic, destructive, incomplete, stupefying, stupidifying, divisive, racist, and inherently misogynistic, and in my opinion, it is the predominant narrative holding humans back from achieving the enlightened magical status that we could reach if only we prioritize compassion as a civilization.
And I find that the wisest, most holy, most ethereal people that I have either read about in history are people who have always chosen to be incredibly strong through their humanizing compassion, and never through contempt or dehumanization. Whether it was a magical prophet in Bethlehem hundreds of years ago who humbly said to respond to injury without revenge but by turning the other cheek, or a wise prophet in Mecca who earnestly decried that there should never be any compulsion in religion, or whether it was a South African President three decades ago who earth-shatteringly chose forgiveness over anger against those who imprisoned and humiliated him for 27 years, or whether it was a Kiwi Prime Minister who entered a mosque, symbolically wore the hijab, and knelt to the ground in a dire refusal to be sucked into anti-Islamic rhetoric in order for her to weld back the ties of her vulnerable community. That is strength. That is civilization. That is humanity. That is the narrative that we need. Compassion in our outlook elevates us and makes us speak the universal language of grace, and that is the only language of miracles. And we really, really need miracles…
I write this as our country finds itself at the brink of a war; it is not necessarily a war as we’ve known it in the 70s and 80s where the majority of people were forced into clan-based bloodshed, but it is a war of moral self-righteousness, a war of unabashed violent opinions, a war of abusive guilt-tripping, a war for blood-thirst waged by random names, online, catering to abusive whims as they force people into toeing the line of their more violent, abusive propaganda. Many wake up every day with a hunger to crucify a bad guy and feed on his or her blood. Every day, a sacrificial lamb in chosen to relieve our suffering. Two weeks ago it was a three-day old baby shamed for being a descendent of a political grandfather, last week it was a bride whose personal story remains completely unknown yet she was denigrated, threatened, and faulted for the unfortunate decision that her father made 20 years ago as if any woman can be held responsible for the decisions made by the men in her family, this week it is an artist shamed and humiliated for his audacity to represent suffering through art that did not please everyone’s palate, tomorrow, it might be you if you don’t toe the line.
Next time you see a post supposedly trying to “make a change”, please check how does it make you feel? If you feel revolted and hateful, please walk away. If you feel inspired and strong? Stay. In this passionate and completely un-objective climate of pseudo-liberation, for the sake of our country, for the sake of our families, for the sake of our children, please beware of abusive narratives. Please beware of harboring emotionality in judgments and of subscribing to abusive chronicles, especially ones that have the power to wreck the lives of people you don’t even know; and if you think you do know, believe me, believe me, you don’t have the slightest clue. Beware of “evidence-based” propaganda that only seeks to make you hate others and nothing else. Beware of people who seek to satisfy the hysteria and the ambient hatred of any given moment by amassing contemptuous and completely unverified stories of abomination and detestation against fellow compatriots. Beware of reductive or simplistic narratives that drown our efforts for nation-building through a few people’s systematic denigration of others, people who practice national masochism, emotional sadism, intellectual terrorism, modernized sectarianism, and the demonization of those who do not think like them.
Famed scientists have discovered that unacknowledged feelings of shame created by the violation of dignity are at the heart of all human conflicts. The more abusive we get, the more horror, pain, and conflict we create, the more miserable our world is. If contempt has the power to kill plants (I’m sure you’ve heard of the “talk rudely to a plant” experiment), how does it make a helpless human feel? Creative? Loving? Open and ready to give their best to the world? Check out the studies on children who were beaten by parents (parents!), and see what happens to them… it’s never, ever a good story. Please, never, ever think that there is anything positive that will come out of any abuse or hatred, even if you think you’re rightfully abusing “the bad guy.” On the other hand, being treated with dignity triggers the limbic system to release the feeling of being seen, recognized, and valued, which are literal “life-expanding experiences”, and that’s how you get creative, responsible, compassionate individuals. We are on Earth for an extremely limited time to give each other life-expanding experiences. Only by humanizing each other’s struggles, will we be able to do that and truly metamorphose our societies for the better, which should be our primordial fight.
Anytime you are faced with negative emotionality, a helpful thought is to know that you probably do not have the full picture. No one knows the absolute truth about anything. Having lived a few “viral” episodes and been on one side of a story or another, I can guarantee you that everything that people harbor as beliefs has always, always been incomplete, if not flat-out wrong, which is such a humbling thought.
We will never be able to benefit from positive change if our communication method is not accompanied by compassion. Even if you are an objectively-recognized genius, your intelligence can only benefit the human condition if it is imbued with compassion. Otherwise, it is a broken light; it cannot enlighten. I believe in the deepest depths of my being, that compassion is the only human condition that can positively change the world because it the the strongest trait of humanity. I am not the first to say it, nor will I be the last, and I know that I belong to a generation of people who will be able to prove that compassion is the only human characteristic that will truly advance our human civilization. Personally, I wish to contribute to that proof, and as my birthday wish, I earnestly hope that you do too.
So, happy birthday to me, and happy day to you today and always.