“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

“Are we going towards a darker era devoid of love?”, I put forward this question to a group of individuals gathered around a table to discuss thought-provoking questions about life and the world we live in.

I love philosophical discussions. It’s something that has constantly inspired me to think beyond our experiences, challenge my own beliefs and learn from those around me who share similar or opposite beliefs. For me, philosophical discussions have led to some closest connections that have helped me grow and be a better human. It’s an opportunity to inspire, expand and observe our own biases. I fall in love with people’s minds, perhaps why I am a sapiosexual.

I recently participated in this discussion with a group because I wanted to get the experience of engaging in dialogue about the world we live where my thoughts were honored and where I could witness the limitations of my own beliefs. My takeaways from the conversation –

  1. It is possible to have a conversation around the most sensitive topics without humiliating the opposition
  2. Diversity of thoughts only helps expand each individual on the table
  3. No idea is insane or dumb
  4. Humans are more similar than what they’ll want to believe
  5. Our life experiences shape our psychology and our psychology plays a huge role in everything that we choose to believe in and stand for

When asked to suggest a topic for that day’s discussion, I suggested discussing, “Are we going towards a darker era devoid of love?” -> This question was inspired by a podcast that I was listening to before I went to the meeting. The podcast, hosted by Oprah, talks about the “The Healing Power of Love” (my favorite topic) and the journey of Elizabeth Lesser toward realizing the power of love. Just earlier that day, I had also seen yet another news article about human rights being taken away in the name of religion (Rights in Uganda and Kenya).

The remaining blog will try to bring the highlights from that conversation to life amongst 5 individuals, all from different parts of the world, with varied backgrounds and from different age groups (names changed).

“When you say devoid of love, what does that mean?”, Julius asked me.

“I woke up to a news article today of a basic human right to live a happy life that was taken away. This is one of many news articles that have been floating around the globe for years. I thought it was limited to a particular part of the world. But the more I read, the more I see that we are going toward an era where we are more interested in taking away the rights of others than uplifting the ones who are suffering. We are more interested in proving ourselves right than loving life.

When I talk about love in this context, it is the love for each other, for those who are different from us, and above all, for self-love. It appears to me that we were acting from a place of hurt than a place of love.”, I responded.

“I know what you mean. I am a climate activist and it astonishes me to see how we don’t care about nature. We continue to harm our environment but don’t put enough effort to right our wrongs. The climate crisis is real and not enough people seem to care. We care more about making the rich richer and the strong stronger than taking initiatives to reduce the harm that we’re causing to this planet.”, Juan provided his inputs and how he related to the topic. (Read Climate Crisis)

“And I am from a country that contributes to the highest carbon emissions in the world. We left our home because the political extremism became overwhelming. Rights are taken away as if it means nothing to the individuals impacted by those rights. It’s a hard time that we live in.”, shared Julia

“I made a similar decision for myself. I left my home country because I didn’t see any way for me to have a life there and moved somewhere where I could be myself. It helped me, there are multiple resources and many individuals there who are constantly trying to make society more inclusive and aware. However, it wasn’t all roses and there was this constant need to control others. Taking away LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, and even refusing to believe the impact of climate change. One of the reasons for me to leave was that it was becoming harder for me to see a future there. I wanted to find a break from everything.”, I responded.

“Oh, you’re in for a surprise. We are not any better. We used to be but now there are groups being very vocal about those issues. I think what happened in that part of the world is influencing the values of people here too. I’ll ask you not to check the local news for your own peace of mind.”, Juan responded.

“I am running out of countries to run to”, I joked.

“My own country is very hierarchical. We don’t even have dialogues about any injustices. Everyone just accepts how things are and don’t bother raising a voice. Instead, those who don’t agree with it, just leave. I worked there for years and I was constantly struggling with the bureaucracy. And felt demotivated because nothing changed”, Julius shared his own experience.

“I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t realize the power of our words. We modify the words, ignore the evidence, and give in to the words of hatred. Here is the thing, it’s difficult for people to accept change. The ideologies are so imbibed in us that we can’t believe there might be a different way to live.”, shared Michael, Julia’s husband.

“I wonder if it is also about money at the end of the day. Who gives money and who has the most power wins. Then they use their words to justify everything that they believe in. E.g., most of these policies around climate change are passed because there is an element of bringing more money in. We’re talking about a potential nuclear war and no one cares! No one is talking about the impact that would have on the entire world.”, added Juan.

“You know there were these articles leaked a couple of years back that showed how many times we have prevented another nuclear war. Sometimes, just due to luck. There was a war happening between the two strongest powers in the world. Submarines from one country holding nuclear weapons were out in the ocean. When the other side spotted these submarines, they started to fire to fear them into going away. One submarine couldn’t escape in time. They had orders to release nuclear weapons under such circumstances. The two commanders on the submarine gave the orders to release the weapon.

Due to sheer luck, that day there was a third commander on that submarine. He was not supposed to be there but now had a choice to make. He vetoed and went against his orders. If he wasn’t there, there would have been a big nuclear war!”, Julia shared an example that visibly scared her.

“Wow! So what, is it just that destroying the other is more important than anything else? Do people not realize that there will be no winners when the entire planet is annihilated? Who will survive the destruction? Those who made it to Mars?”, I asked

“Probably. The economic gap is baffling. We have billionaires living in the same cities as the homeless. I just couldn’t see that anymore. I had to get out.”, Julia provided her experience living in one of the richest cities in the world

“Money, control and, if nothing works, use religion to justify your behavior.”, Juan responded.

“I think it’s also about proving that we have some value in society. We can’t do anything else so at least I upheld my religion by taking away a woman’s right to her own body.”, Julia responded

“The topic of LGBTQ and abortion rights especially bother me. I have tried to understand the perspective of people who call it wrong and promote banning but, I must admit, it all seems to be rooted in this need to control. It seems like we’re so insecure in our worlds that we try to control others to justify our beliefs. We believe that if we control and show our dominance, we will find meaning in our lives and probably a way to validate ourselves. Believing that others are morally beneath us for being themselves and making life choices based on their experiences seems to be rooted in our insecurities.

It surprises me that we don’t realize that having a right to choose allows us to make decisions and consider our varied experiences as humans. One person’s decision to do something or live a certain way does not prohibit another from making different decisions or living a different way. However, taking away that right from a person prohibits them from living a happier life. There is a clear result of that impact on someone’s mental health and quality of life.

Neither of the two has a context of each other’s circumstances. How can then one person ever know what is the right thing for the other to do in a situation? When one person dictates what they think is right without recognizing the impact of that on another’s life, then, that shows a lack of humanity and empathy. Which is why I believe that it’s the lack of love that blinds us to each other’s sufferings.”, I reflected

“You also lived in a city that is known for its homeless population, right? How was that for you and how do you relate this to lack of love?”, Julius asked me out of curiosity. After our discussion, I learned that he is a published author who writes about societal issues and that these conversations help influence his work.

“It looks more about being controlling.”, Michael added before I could respond.

“Living there was as you can imagine. I used to get overwhelmed every time I stepped outside my home and I moved out of the city after a year. There was pain everywhere and I was not ready to live in that dystopia.

The way I see it, it comes down to human psychology, the hurt we carry, and like Julia said, our need to justify our value. We are not born hating others and we are not born to control what others can and can’t do. We are clean sheets of paper and who we act as in the world is influenced by what we learn from experience. As per science, most of our psyche is developed at the age of 3 – 9 years. If our parents and our society hold certain beliefs, we will continue to believe them and act the same way until we start to question them. If I can work on my issues and what hurts me, I can learn to empathize and not hurt another person or plant, or animal. Maybe we all need therapy.”, I responded

“I don’t know if I understand how will that change anything. I am in my 70s. I am pretty rigid in what I believe in. I had a very rough childhood but I am not going around controlling others.”, Mark asked.

“Let me give you an example. Imagine I am a powerful human being and have an arsenal of nuclear weapons in my bag. If Juan insults me today with something that triggers a childhood wound in me, I have a couple of ways to react. I might feel threatened, hurt, and angry because subconsciously it reminds me of something that happened to me as a kid. The moment I feel any of those feelings, my defense mechanism kicks in. Maybe that’s how my dad insulted me and I was helpless to defend myself. So, to protect myself at that young age, I developed a mechanism to react that helped me. Over time, I learned to react a certain way whenever those feelings showed up. So now whenever someone insults me, I either fight, flee, or freeze.

When I am not aware of my own triggers, I react the way I would have reacted to that emotion as a kid. I might choose to fight and insult him as retaliation. He will insult me back and the insults might keep escalating until we both get tired or start to physically harm each other. I can also have a problem managing my anger, and throw a nuclear weapon at him to destroy him (I apologized to Juan for annihilating him in my example). Another way to react is by not reacting at all and choosing to sit there and do nothing which is the freeze response. Finally, I can also choose to run away and never speak with him again which would be me running from the situation.

Or, if I have worked on myself and I am aware of my triggers, I can look at his insult, recognize why it triggered me, and choose to respond in a way that helps the situation. I can also see that his insulting me has nothing to do with me. Just like my triggers dictate the way I react, I can see that Juan also has a history that I am not aware of. His choice to attack, which is the fight response, is probably rooted in the experiences that he had as a kid. Something triggered him to fight and his reaction to that pain is to find someone else to hurt.

So, when I am aware of my trigger, I have a choice. I can respond by ignoring him and, thereby, not give energy to those insults because it is not about me, it’s about his internal struggles. I can choose to have a conversation with him, create a boundary with him to keep personal insults away from the topic of discussion, and, hopefully, come to a solution that serves us both. Or, I can choose to let him know how his behavior is not acceptable, walk away, and protect myself while knowing that I stood up for myself. In any case, I prevented a war and no one is annihilated.”, I responded while noticing that being questioned about my stance initially caused me to freeze – an awareness for me. Upon reflection, I realized that I had learned to keep mute about my opinions because they were often overlooked or attacked while I was growing up. Which is why I stopped voicing my opinion a long time back. Prolonged muteness often resulted in a burst of anger.

“I see what you mean. I didn’t go to therapy but I have spent years reflecting on what happened to me. Does just being aware help? I don’t think I have changed anything about myself.”, Michael asked

“You tell me. Do you treat others the way you were treated as a kid or does recognizing the impact of those actions on you, inspire you to treat others differently?”, I asked

“It inspired me to treat others with much more compassion. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. Is that what therapy does? Makes us aware?”, he asked

“It does. No one is asking you to change your values. Your story is unique and your values, experiences, and feelings are all valid. All that you have experienced has shaped you into the individual that you are today. How can anyone else invalidate your story? No one is also asking Juan to change his truth because his experiences have shaped him. What awareness accomplishes is providing an opportunity to have empathy with the person sitting across the table who might look different, feel different, hold different values, and lives differently. It helps us see ourselves in others despite all the differences and once we see ourselves in others, it becomes hard to hate. At that time, we can only hate if we don’t love ourselves. So, self-love becomes a basic necessity to have any love or compassion for others.

I must commend you for doing something that we’re all just learning to do. You did that without even knowing that’s what you were doing and without help. You’re an inspiration to many and we can all learn from you.”, I responded with a smile.

“Huh”, a common sound came out of everyone at the table. Maybe I made sense?

After a few minutes of silence when everyone seemed to reflect on the entire conversation, Julia, the host, remarked. “This was lovely. I loved the past 2 hours. Thank you all for coming. I hope to see all of you again soon”.

“Me too.”, we all responded and headed our way.

Once home, I was greeted by a youtube suggestion of a video where Trevor Noah, in a discussion with Jay Shetty, talks about who we think we are vs what others perceive us to be and the impact of perspectives. A must-listen for anyone struggling with similar questions about where the world is headed and what role we play in it – Trevor Noah.

To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” – Socrates

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