Call me by my true names

In a polarized country, made even more so by certain events, like the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, we tend to identify with the “good” side, whichever side that is for us based on our race and experiences. Rare is it that we identify with the other side, let alone both sides.

Our propensity to do so was pointed out to me in a recent Dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal. How people after the murder and the trial identified strongly with Trayvon by stating “I am Trayvon Martin”. Yes, we are all potential Trayvons. We easily identify in life with the victim. The one who was wronged. But how many of us identify with George Zimmerman? How many of us identify with being the one who wronged someone else?

The categories may not be so black and white, so easily identified as victim and perpetrator. In some cases—many cases—the two categories are blurred. The woman who attacks her husband after years of abuse. Or the person who cuts us off in traffic after being repeatedly cut off himself.

After all, we are not saints. We all do wrong things and hurt people. I don’t want to admit that I wronged others. That I am a perpetrator in certain situations. But it is the nature of being human. I wrong and am wronged. I am not one or the other. I am both.

This sentiment is echoed in a poem that Gil mentioned, a poem by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. In the poem Call Me by My True Names, Thich identifies with both sides. The good and the bad. He is the starving child in Uganda. And a weapon merchant in Uganda. He is a girl who was raped and drowns herself at sea. And the pirate who raped her. He is a member of the politburo. And the person dying in the labor camp. It is a powerful poem. With a powerful message that we are both sides, not one or the other. That is what makes us human.

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