He said that was him in the photo from Charlotte, VA — there in the crowd of neo-Nazis and white supremacists — but that wasn’t the real him. The photo was too ugly for him to admit himself, and so he denied its truth.
I think that no one wants to admit their ugliness. But to deny it is to deny that we’re human. And then what we’re left with is the fear that drives us to become uglier. And then we end up in and with vile events like those in Charlotte, VA, or Nazi Germany, or Rwanda, or Syria, or any number of other places around the world.
We humans all have a great capacity for ugliness and an equal capacity for beauty. We can sleep and stay asleep, and we can awaken. But we don’t awaken until we look in the mirror and see that we have the capacity for evil.
When my twins were toddlers, I had to remove them from their daycare center because they were biting the other children and the teachers were unable to stop them. When I asked my kids to say goodbye to their teachers, one of the teachers said that she felt sorry for me. In that moment, I felt like slapping her.
A few days later, at the family Thanksgiving celebration, I told the story to my brother. When I told him that I felt like slapping the teacher, he told me that I was no different from a terrorist. I disagreed; I still disagree.
Yes, I felt like slapping the teacher, but I didn’t. I didn’t hold her responsible for my feeling. Instead I looked at myself and recognized the ugliness of my feeling. And I was sad. Eventually, I forgave myself.
I once slapped a man for grabbing my breast. When he asked for my forgiveness, I gave it. But I never forgot. That is to say, when someone asks for forgiveness, you can give it. But you don’t need to let the same thing happen again.
The problem with the divisions in this country are manifold. But those among white supremacists are easy to list. They have ugly thoughts and feelings. They are not willing to look at the ugly parts of their hearts. Instead they project them onto the world. Having disowned part of themselves, they have dis-empowered themselves. Now they are trapped in a vicious cycle.
The only way out of course, is to look at themselves. Own the ugly part and forgive themselves. The longer they avoid self-examination, the longer they will cut themselves off from humanity.
The rest of us — people of all colors, all religions, all philosophies, all occupations — must guard ourselves and each other from the wild beasts in our midst. We have no Coventry to banish them to, and I’m not sure how that would square with our Democratic ideals.
There is a prayer that Jews say, addressed to God. But I’d like to invite you — and me both — to view it through a Gestalt dream interpretation technique. This Gestalt technique views every element of the dream as the self. Imagine then, that God is part of You and Me:
Keep My tongue from evil, My lips from lies. Help Me ignore My slandering of Myself. Let Me be humble before All. Open My heart to My Torah, so that I may pursue My deeds designed to teach goodness (mitzvot). Frustrate My designs that plot evil against Me. Make nothing of My schemes for evil. Do so because of My compassion, My power, My holiness, and the Torah inside Me. Answer My prayer for the deliverance of My People. May the words of My mouth and the meditations of My heart be acceptable to Me, Rock and Redeemer. The One who brings peace to the universe will bring peace to Us and to all the People. Amen.
In the face of great evil, be brave: Look in your heart. See that you have that capacity for evil and forgive yourself. Find a way forward from that dark part of the heart — it’s not all of you. Find a way to peace and love and unity.