A, Be, See
01 December 2006
The message of the Golden Rule—treat others as we would like to be treated—is found in the teachings of all religious traditions and in the secular tradition as well. It has been around for ever, so why do we not hear it?
‘THERE IS no way to peace,’ Mahatma Gandhi declared. ‘Peace is the way.’ More enigmatically, English poet TS Eliot wrote, ‘In order to arrive at what you are not, you must go through the way in which you are not!’
In Australia, social activist and Christian writer Dave Andrews has started a web-based campaign called ‘Wecan.be’, urging people to sign up to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, to again quote Gandhi. ‘Plan A,’ says Andrews, ‘has been to treat others like they treat us.... Forget plan A, try plan Be’. Plan Be, says Andrews, takes seriously the ‘Be-attitudes of Christ’. The message of the Golden Rule—treat others as we would like to be treated—is found in the teachings of all religious traditions and in the secular tradition as well. It has been around for ever, so why do we not hear it?
There is a story of a man who met someone with a banana in his ear. ‘Excuse me,’ he said kindly, ‘you have a banana in your ear.’ ‘What did you say?’ responded the other. The man repeated, ‘You have a banana in your ear.’ ‘Sorry, I’m afraid I still didn’t get you,’ replied the other. Rather embarrassed now, the man shouted, ‘You have a banana in your ear.’ With a deep sigh the other said apologetically, ‘It’s no use. I cannot hear you. You see, I have a banana in my ear.’
Possibly Jesus would have commented, ‘Take the watermelon out of your own ear before trying to remove the banana from someone else’s.’ So are we just not listening or can we not hear? Deafness is often associated with the boring predictability of what is being said! The Latin word for deaf is ‘surdus’, and if you are very deaf you are ‘absurdus.’ An absurd life is where you are not listening or hearing any more.
The liberation theologian Ivan Illych reckoned that change in society would only come through ‘the telling of a new story’. The new story is all around us, can we hear it? It is the story of people who are already ‘being the change’. I was recently at a gathering in the north east of India. There were Bodos and Santhals, Nagas and Kukis, Khasis and Assamese. They were talking of taking responsibility for their lives and communities rather than pointing the finger of blame. They were asking one another for forgiveness for past conflict and current hate. They were reconciling with parents and spouses.
It was not a huge gathering, but in that space and moment they were daring to tell a new story, a story of transformation and hope. And that corner of the world is every bit as real as the corridors of Washington or the bloodstained alleys of Iraq.
In October, in the last week of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, my husband and I were privileged to be staying with an Indonesian family in Jakarta, sharing in the fast with them. They spoke of the last day of the fast as a day of asking for forgiveness from friends and relatives before the joy of the feast of Eid. An old story, but new to me. A story of hope. We met with an Islamic scholar in her home where we sat together, in silence, to listen to that deep source of truth, the inner voice that speaks in and to every heart. She said, ‘First we must listen and then we will see.’ ‘Be the change you want to see.’ From Plan Be to Plan See via listening. Fictional hero Don Quixote summed it up: ‘Madness lies in seeing the world only as it is and not as it could be.’ The A, Be, See of the answer.