Patterns of Division
Quite often, I experience life as a voyeur, peeking into various worlds that seemed to operate with a flawless but elusive algorithm and one that ultimately did not need me. It was only when I embraced the fact that existing in the margins was going to be my algorithm, did I finally get the keys to the kingdom. So what has this kingdom been like, so far?
Through this limited keyhole, you see that some trends keeps reiterating itself in different manifestations throughout the globe – religiosity versus secularism, urbane versus rural, liberal versus conservative, insular versus inclusive. In some societies, it comes in a clear quadrangle – secular, urbane, liberal, inclusive versus religious, rural, conservative, insular. In others these demarcations are inapplicable – religious conservatives and secular liberals are not tied to any other demographic marker, they are just groups that are motivated by their own philosophies notwithstanding education or exposure. Sometimes the fight is all about the urbane versus the rural, two groups which are mainly tied with issues of money and class, where religion plays a less dominant role.
But within all these divisions, what remains disconcertingly the same is the level of disdain each group has for the other. It may be somewhat dramatic but I often wonder if having disdain for a group of people you believe to be different than you is the beginning of armed conflict. Not all political disdain concludes in armed conflict, but all armed conflicts are rooted in political disdain that one group has for another. So what happens from being just a politically fractured society to being a people that intentionally detonates cluster bombs on civilian populations? What triggers that rapid unravelling that can fling us from peace to war in a matter of days? It concerns me because in these current times, vitriol and dehumanisation of the other side is on a steep rise.
When the toxicity of how much the world is predisposed to hate unnerves me, I cling on to the few memories I have of watching a love that is equally unraveling and transformative. The first memory is an incident I observed in one of my flights between Istanbul to Ankara. I was seated next to an elderly father who was looking after his adult son. The latter happened to be debilitated physically and mentally. He could not move without assistance and the words that came out of his mouth were indecipherable to everyone but his father. What killed me was the sheer love and tenderness in his father’s eyes for him. You saw in his gaze for his son just the raw, primal devotion that an animal has when protecting their young. He chuckled indulgently when his son accidentally had food trickling down his mouth, cut his sandwich into small pieces as he fed him slowly and carefully, making sure his son had fully swallowed and digested every crumb before preparing for the next spoonful, and physically lifted his son (with limited help from cabin crew) into the wheelchair before embarking.
The second memory I have of this nature of love was observing visiting hours in a high security prison in a remote border town of Turkey. I remembered seeing a mother’s face crumpled with tears as she spoke to her son, who was incarcerated. That pain she carried, was traumatising to witness because you knew it came from such visceral love. Yet again, I was blown away by the complete and unadulterated loyalty that a parent has for their child, no matter the circumstance.
It is a foregone conclusion that parents love their children, but when seeing these two individuals live aloud a sacrificial form of love that one simply cannot fake, it broke me and rebuilt me at the same time. This is the unsung heroism amongst us that takes place every day, in a world that is beset with cruelty.
And last but not least was my encounter with a teenager I met from a war torn country who was claiming asylum with his parents. When his siblings lives were taken by the conflict, his parents decided it was time to flee, or perish. His fear of being killed upon return was not about his fear of his own mortality but what his death could mean for his parents. As he deliberated on the idea that his parents might be alone and without help in this world, tears poured down his face, quietly at first, and then he just completely broke down and wept. It was profoundly disturbing to see but somehow indescribably admirable that someone so young, was driven mainly by a desire to look after his parents. Here was a fresh new soul into this world, whose only experience of life was the devastating tragedy that hate creates, and his complete motivation in life was to love and protect. It was inexplicable to me, but this time in a positive way.
It is a fact that love and hate co-exist in this world and is the origin of all the things we have accomplished and destroyed as the human race. There are days when it feels futile to discuss or reflect on it as the world will rotate as it was designed to, and a century from today, no one would have been any wiser. In fact, it is ironic that today marks the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day, when world leaders decided to cease hostilities indefinitely but it feels that the World Wars that destroyed so much of the map in the past century, seems desperate for a sequel in this century. And yes, before I descend into doom and gloom again, I reach for the memories of these three individuals like a talisman. I think of their courage under fire, and their powerful instinct to love notwithstanding the challenge they find themselves in, and somehow feel comforted that we will all somehow be OK again. May we all be protected by Divine Light…