San Bernardino shooting: maybe these are my people?

Compassion San Bernardino shooting


If you’re wondering what in the world we can do to stop this mass shooting madness, with the San Bernardino shooting and the motives of the shooters currently unfolding in the media.

If you feel on edge or raw from the sheer frequency and numbers killed in senseless gun violence just this year alone (with 355 mass shootings this year, more than the number of days in a year, according to a web resource I love to read – TheChristianLeft.Org) then maybe these reflections might be of some benefit to you.

The first is a statement by the Dalai Lama: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

The second is from a progressive, liberal Christian blogger David R. Henson ( who says very simply “After 355 Times, Maybe It’s Time to Say Something Different”) – reference to right wing Republicans who are merely saying  that their  prayers go out to the family of the victims in San Bernardino. David is suggesting, among other things, to decisively attack loose gun legislation and the stranglehold of the NRA on Congress.

Which leads us to consider the question if prayer, or loving-kindness, is not enough, then what?

Let’s get back to the Dalai Lama’s statement that without love and compassion, humanity cannot survive.

Can we apply this insight to the San Bernardino shooting?

What if the answer were to be found in changing our deeply ingrained habits of mind and come to full inner transformation.

Can we challenge the notions of friend an enemy, and even of self and other?

Can we undergo a radical inner change of perspective, and work in an organized way to bring these insights into the world, rather than simply wishing it were so through prayer and meditation?

A first step in this direction could be to an inner revolution regarding who we consider to be friend and enemy.

I offer this reflection as a cautious first baby step in this direction.

I was reading on online excerpt from a new book, The Kindness Handbook, co-authored by one of my early teachers Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman, who some of you may know as a professor of religion at Columbia University, and some of you may know him as the actress Uma Thurman’s father.

The excerpt I read recounts Sharon’s attempt to fly from New York to Tucson to hear the Dalai Lama give a series of lectures, but then finds herself stuck on the plane on the runway of La Guardia airport for over four hours, due to a malfunction with the plane.

This is from page p. 127 of this new book when Sharon looks back on those four hours on the runway:


Looking back on it, I sometimes refer jokingly to those hours as “the breakdown of civilization.” It was hot, and it grew hotter. After a point, people started yelling, “Let me off this plane!” The pilot resorted to getting on the PA system and saying sternly, “No one is getting off this plane.”

I wasn’t feeling all that chipper myself. I couldn’t seem to get in touch with the people who were supposed to pick me up at the airport, and I was concerned about them. I had an apartment to go to in New York City, and kept thinking, to no avail, “I can just go back there, and try again tomorrow.” I was hot. I felt pummeled by the people shouting around me.

Then I recalled an image that Bob Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, often uses to describe kindness and compassion that comes from seeing the world more truthfully.  He says, “Imagine you are on the New York City subway, and these Martians come and zap the subway car so that those of you in the car are going to be together…. Forever.” What do we do?

If someone is hungry we feed them. If someone is freaking out, we try to calm them down. We might not all like everybody, or approve of them – but we are going to be together forever, and we need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are, and will remain.

Sitting on the airplane, I was struck by the recollection of Bob’s story I looked around the cabin, and thought, “Maybe these are my people.”

It was fascinating to note that my impatience – “Couldn’t’ you be a little quieter?” – and distress – “How much long is this going to last?” – changed to taking a greater interest in those with me: Who are these people? Is it really imperative that they be on time? What is awaiting them? I watched the interplay of forces in my own mind as interest opened the door to a measure of kindness, and as “How much longer?” encountered “Forever,” I saw my worldview shift from “me” and “them” to “we.”


Let’s let one of the lines I highlighted above sink in:We might not all like everybody, or approve of them – but we are going to be together forever, and we need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are, and will remain.”

Can we look around in situations where we may feel uncomfortable, on edge, or raw and reflect “Maybe these are my people?”

In the San Bernardino shooting?

Can we allow the possibility that these are all my people: the mass shooters and the victims, the left and right wing media and politicians?

Christians and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, Hindus and Buddhists?

Can we be kind towards those who oppose our views and work with them in a loving way?

How big is this subway car?

And where do “I” end and “you” begin?

(love to hear your comments) …

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One Comment

  1. –I love getting your regular e-mails. I got on board with you when I saw your web page and my significant other and I were visiting Hawaii. However, at the time your group was not meeting so we missed out.
    I live in Eugene Oregon. Although there are some aspects of your letter I don’t agree with, I give you BIG props for even trying to tackle this subject. It is very complicated, especially from a spiritual point of view. Many people I am around seem to just shrug their shoulders and say, things like “horrible.”
    My take is that there are two distinct issues here. 1. Mentally ill young men who have way too easy of an access to firearms and go on suicidal killing sprees. 2. The Islamic Fascists. Basically, we are at war and don’t want to admit it. This is an extremely complex subject and we need our very best minds to figure out a strategy that doesn’t make things worse.
    I think your above comments make sense for group one, but I admittedly have a hard time stretching to group two. People who burn, rape and torture innocents are not my people. We may be of the same essence, but right now, I have to say no. Again, many thanks for your well thought out response to these difficulties. I look forward to more.

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