Every few years, we all end up at the DMV, the great leveler, where ethnicity, income or community standing is inconsequential. In a recent visit, amid a crowd of every age and personal background, I was struck by how similar we all are — both in dealing with passing driver exams and coping with life.
Everyone in that DMV hall, besides needing to get the coveted license, had challenges — some physical, some psychological, some financial, some social and some about making sense out of life. Moreover, had I interviewed my DMV cohorts on the day of my visit, I'm sure I would have found stories from each about being wounded by life.
There is a fascinating story in Genesis (Ch. 32) about how Jacob in a dream or vision wrestles with an angel until the divine messenger blesses him. He gets his blessing, but in the struggle is wounded on his hip socket and limps away.
A student once asked me why there is never again, in the story of Jacob, any mention of his limping. I responded that the wound was spiritual or psychic, that Jacob was actually struggling in his dream with how to deal with his powerful brother Esau, whom he had tricked out of their father's (Isaac's) birthright.
Jacob came to terms with his youthful deception via the divine blessing, but it cost him. So, too, we all have personal struggles that wound us and leave us limping inside. We cope, we move on, but are made very aware of our vulnerability.
St. Paul puts in similarly in Second Corinthians Ch. 11: "Who is weak and I am not weak?"
Despite our mutual frailty, it is tragic that people are capable of treating one another with so much disrespect. Recent public examples bear this out.
A group of demonstrators at an anti-Muslim protest in Yorba Linda scream at Muslim parents and children to "go home." A member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee forwards an e-mail displaying President Obama as the child of chimpanzees. A thug heaves a brick through the glass of Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan's bar. A group of Muslim students shout down an Israeli ambassador to humiliate him and cause distress to the Orange County Jewish community.
The key to treating others well is compassion, an awareness that we are all, as discussed, frail and wounded despite our attempts to masquerade as "just doing fine."
We all live lives that are a mix of joy and desperation, sun and shadow. The Dalai Lama (and Buddhism in general) has a lot to say about compassion. It springs from a sense of our being sentient beings, beings that can hurt.
Hateful words and deeds wound the world by wounding its inhabitants.
As His Holiness puts it, "Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."
Cultivating compassion takes some effort but is worth it.
For example, before leveling at someone a harsh critique — or even an outright insult — over a real or perceived hurt, think about whether it fits the situation.
Think, too, about how the words or e-mail or Facebook post would make you feel. Will your words or actions heal human hearts or cause unnecessary hurt? Think about the vulnerability of all those seekers in the DMV of life.
BENJAMIN J. HUBBARD is professor emeritus of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton.