Watching the interaction unfold on the bus in front of me, I wasn’t so sure.
It was rush hour on a Friday afternoon and people packed into the bus. Near me stood a young professional carrying a large handbag. As the bus swerved and jostled through traffic, someone brushed against her bag. The lady turned – out of reflex – to see what was going on. Glancing around and seeing nothing of note, she returned to staring out the window.
Whether the young woman had intended her look to be an accusation or not, I don’t know. But that’s how the man seated behind her took it. He grumbled at her, “If you’re so convinced I’m going to steal from your purse, why don’t you go stand somewhere else?” Swearing to himself, he turned back toward the window.
The incident made me wonder.
Maybe it was only a small conflict, a one-to-one interaction gone awry. It could have simply been the result of a bad mood or poor timing.
But what if it was a result of something bigger – an echo of a greater disrespect, disconnection and distrust? What if it was the result of years of being treated a certain way?
In the face of such distrust and suspicion, how can we ever find peace? Is it possible?
My destination was a talk by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche as part of his “Imagining Peace” tour. His words spoke into my questions:
Start with how we think about human nature. What if we focused not on what’s wrong with people, but on what’is right? What if we assumed that people have a basic value – a basic goodness?
Change yourself first. While we cannot force others to change, we can change ourselves. To make the world a more peaceful place, we have to learn to be at peace with ourselves. To see more humanity in the world, we have to be human ourselves.
Remember that everything happens on an individual level. Society is a vast network of one-to-one connections. And without respect in those single connections, society breaks down. But in the same way, we can make a difference one person at a time – one interaction at a time.
Act. The great teachers and leaders throughout history did not just sit back and bask in their teachings. They got up. They went out and did something – putting their understanding into practice. Peace is not passive. It requires our strength, skill, and intelligence.
On the bus home, I pondered the evening’s talk.
But just as I began jotting down a few reflections, I was interrupted. A man started talking loudly. He was drunk. His angry ramblings filled the bus, making it difficult to concentrate on my writing.
Often, my response is to get upset. “How dare this man interrupt my peace and quiet?” I’d think. Not this time. Instead I offered a short prayer of compassion for the man and turned back to my writing.
Maybe it was only a small encounter, a one-to-one interaction gone right. It could have simply been the result of my good mood.
But what if it was a result of something bigger – an echo of a greater respect and goodness? What if it was the result of practicing a certain way of life?
In the face of that goodness, perhaps peace really is possible.