|Stories have helped us make meaning of the world, from ancient times when our ancestors whispered around campfires. Inner mental models that explained the outside world shaped our perceptions, and formed the basis of cohesion from tribes to the greatest civilizations. In these stories lay a natural exclusion, for our stories of creation or broader ideologies, subtly creates a dualistic way of seeing the world, and ‘othering’ those who live outside of our interpretation.
Creation stories, and the exploration of our mortality is a foundational theme. As Ernest Becker put it, "Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with." In order to make sense of this existential dread, humanity has invented countless stories to comfort us as we conceptually peer over the edge of our mortal precipice.
These tales have the power to bind people together, but equally, to tear them apart. Much of human conflict has been one group trying to convince the other that it is right. From Becker’s point of view, those conflicts stem from an insecurity about a singular worldview that comes under threat when an alternate explanation erodes that foundation. The dominant narratives have a tendency of locating ‘evil’ outside of themselves, and that violence against these threatening other views is justified. Religious wars about which god is true, civil wars within countries with differing economic doctrines, genocides that eradicate entire minorities – most conflicts start with finding someone to blame.
The scapegoat is then blamed for all the problems, and there is a collective cooperation of those in the dominant narrative to put aside their mutual antagonisms and bond in a mutual hatred. Ironically, the killing or sacrifice of the scapegoat can foster a kind of temporary peace and cohesion among those who are the ‘victors’, but the underlying anger, and the ignorance of the endless cycle will remain. When we point our finger in blame at someone, we fall back into that cycle of afflictive emotions and lack of empathy. From ancient ritual killing of animals as sacrifice, to intercontinental ballistic missiles that cause collateral damage, even if we destroy the object we blame, the cycle remains.
As Gandhi once said, "We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” The scapegoat should become, instead of an object of blame, a spirit animal to help us discover other stories and offer a chance at transcending the cycle through a collective exploration of compassionate possibility.
Exploring our own mental models and our own biases cause a shift in perception that opens a door for us to change the way we show up in our lives. This in turn creates a lived example of what is possible, and that influences those around us. This cultivation of empathy through deep inquiry reduces the ‘otherness’ of those outside of our perspectives and makes it harder to abstract them into evil that must be dealt with. Starting with our deepest fears and strongest beliefs is a place to begin. The seeds of seeing the world as a complex yet beautiful spectrum of colors can be tended to, which allows the tree of wisdom and compassion to bear fruit.