Conversations on all the bombings and terror that are happening around the world have been dominating not only news channels but also all my conversations with friends and colleagues. This fear that is spread by ISIS around the world is bringing all kinds of feelings in people. From those who are retreating and saying we have nothing to do with this terror and we just want to be left alone, to those who are saying we need to engage and bomb the heck out of ISIS and win the war, to those who are consumed by conspiracy theories about the origin and the funding of ISIS. Middle Easterns are blaming ISIS on Americans (yes, that is a true widespread belief in the Middle East), some just call ISIS crazy dysfunctional people who are gathered from all over the world to join ISIS as it provides a sense of purpose to them, to those who are trying to understand the underpinning behind ISIS growth from economic to social and ideological. There is a place for all of these arguments of course and sometimes they co-exist together. What they all have in common is pointing the finger at ISIS as the “other”. And of course they are the “other” but we will never be able to understand the darkness in others unless we understand the darkness in ourselves.
As a matter of fact, unless we dare to see the darkness within ourselves, each as individuals as well as a collective society, we will not be able to address the darkness in others and transform what is happening in the world to a more peaceful and stable place than it is at the moment. This is much easier said than done. Each individual and society has a sense of self-righteousness about oneself. It is easier to believe I am good and this person is bad. I am ethical and this person is not, etc. But that scenario is always impossible. There is no such thing as any one individual or society as fully good or fully bad. We each have both co-existing within ourselves and within our society. Now I am not saying we all have ISIS values in us. But I am saying unless we understand the darkness within us, it will be hard to engage with the darkness of ISIS or even another individual who may be hurting you at work or in your personal life.
In a way, we each need to embrace the Batman within ourselves and take on the black mask to explore the darkness in the caves in the midst of the night be it that of the Joker or the shadow itself. You see, unlike Superman who is a hero from another planet who wants to save humanity, Batman is a human who has been hurt. He understood to go to darkness, he needed to explore the darkness of himself and even wear it as the mask whereby he enters into others’ darkness and stop it from all its crimes. You may think this is getting weird. This writing starts with ISIS and ends with Batman. But bear with me here, it ends with each one of us as individuals and asks ourselves where is the arrogance in us? Where is the racist or the classist in us? Where is the bigot in us? Where is the bully in us? Where is the anger in us?
This is an uncomfortable discussion and even a scary one to embark upon. And frankly, it is hard to do it in public. In my personal case, I can only do it in the safety of few friends before I explore it in public discussions. But I feel it is an inevitable journey that I have to explore for myself as an individual if I am to try to show up in the world at a personal, community or global level to contribute in whatever way possible. You see, ISIS and the likes are ultimately about making “ugly” public.
There is a cynicism in that attitude and even anger. For most people are not comfortable with “ugly” be it a feature in our body or a behavior of our beings or others. But “ugly” be it ISIS or the Joker in Batman is consistently making “ugly” public and even celebrated in an arrogant way. But behind that arrogance, is the scarcity of “ugly” and the fear that comes with scarcity. We all hide “ugly” as something to put in the basements of our lives or societies. “Ugly” most people believe exist outside of us. But then there comes a time where a group of people build an identity for “ugly”, gives us acknowledgment, respect and more importantly show it publicly without shame. Every society has such group that makes “ugly” popular and gives it and those who associate with it in a primary way to be respected. But that respect can only be implemented from a point of arrogance that drives with the fear of scarcity. In other words, “If I am not arrogant then I won’t be accepted for who I am”. So “ugly” becomes a bully; “ugly” becomes an arrogance; and “ugly” can eventually become terror itself.
There is a way out of this though. This can only become a vicious circle of violence and terror within our personal or collective lives if we continue to dismiss “ugly” within ourselves and our surroundings. What if the “ugly” part of us and of each other is acknowledged with respect rather than hidden in the basement? We can only do that on the individual level as a path to learn what it means and how that means for the collective level. In other words, in order to understand the arrogance of the bully be it ISIS or an individual in my life, I need to understand the arrogance of the bully within myself. I need to explore arrogance, where does it stem from within myself, what is the opposite feeling of my arrogance, where is that scarcity and fear is coming from, etc. Suddenly when one let themselves simmer in the feeling rather than judging it, you will even understand the enjoyment one can actually get from arrogance.
It is in that moment of enjoyment and the power it gives the individual that one can start to explore what it means to be in it and then how to control it: when it’s good to use it and when it’s good not to use it and ultimately how to transform it in the larger collective. In other words, we cannot transform the darkness and arrogance of ISIS or the Joker if we cannot understand that darkness and how it really feels within ourselves. In our understanding of our own “ugly” is the healing for the “ugly” outside of us. In our respect and control of our own “shadow” is the point where we can start to transform the larger “shadow” of what is surrounding us.
As Rumi says, what cleans the dirt is dirt itself. I never understood this until recently. What if the “dirt” of ourselves is the path to heal and transform the “dirt” we are feeling in out world these days? That exploration is where the journey starts and may it be a journey of healing.