I have been discovering once again, as I contemplate the events in Iran, the challenge of practicing metta. It's easy to send wishes of goodwill and compassion to those with whom I agree and sympathize--those seeking to throw off the yoke of oppression; and much harder--though just as important in this practice--to send an equal measure to the oppressor.
And yet the practice is extraordinarily rewarding. It confronts me with the honesty of acknowledging how little I know, how little I understand of these affairs. It confronts me with the disturbing belief that, whilst I abhor violence, the reality is that violence does seem, to some, to be the only answer. The dreadful irony is that, in Iran, both sides seem to think so--those who look around them and see intolerable oppression, and those who believe that the social order must be protected at all costs. I am, of course, naturally inclined to take the side of the oppressed. To breathe, to send goodwill to the oppressors, to wish them happiness runs counter to this instinct. It's a real struggle, in which I am helped only by recalling the wisdom of Thanissaro Bhikkhu: if they, too, found true happiness, the world would be a better place.
I may stand accused of wishy-washiness rather than wisdom, as is, in this crisis, our President Obama. Voices to the right and voices to the left have been clamoring for strength, decisiveness. They have forgotten, perhaps--or choose to ignore--the recent history of American "strength"--which often looks all too much like weakness--and its clearly counter-productive outcomes. Consider Vietnam. Consider Iraq. Consider the numerous smaller adventures in Central and Latin America, where we have put a heavy finger on the right (read anti-socialist) side of self-determination. We have been too often on the wrong side of history.
And the results of eight years of Bush belligerence should not be so easily forgotten. Our last president and his cohort of neo-cons would surely, now, be loudly proclaiming America's condemnation of the "evil" oppressor. We should remember their record, soberly. What the practice of metta teaches, in part, is the humility of having to recognize that "I" am not always right, and that compassion can be a more effective strategy than confrontation. Which does not make it easy.