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Death penalty and doing enough

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Tonight I am gonna sit with my Sangha as silent witness as Lisa Coleman gets executed.

What good does my sitting do? How is my sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill with ten or less people, hardly visible, not even at the place of the execution, gonna make a difference?

Sister Prejean and others, Sept 10, 2014I should be like Sister Prejean. She has been working incessantly for the abolishment of the death penalty for the last 30 years. She visits death row inmates, she travels the country non-stop to engage with the audience, she speaks on television and radio. Her story even got filmed as Dead Man Walking.

I should do so much more.

Marshall Rosenberg refers to Dan Greenburg to demonstrate “the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us. He suggests that if readers have a sincere desire to make life miserable for themselves, they might learn to compare themselves to other people. For those unfamiliar with this practice, he provides a few exercises.” Dan starts with the suggestion to compare ourselves to a male and female photo model. Just observe their body measurements and compare theirs to ours.

I don’t even need to do that exercise. Only thinking about it, makes me miserable: my belly is too poochy, my breasts are too small and hanging, the corners of my mouth growl down in seemingly dissatisfaction.

“Since physical beauty is relatively superficial, Greenburg next provides an opportunity to compare ourselves on something that matters: achievement… Greenburg lists the languages Mozart spoke and the major pieces he had composed by the time he was a teenager. The exercise then instructs readers to reflect on their own achievements at their current stage of life, to compare them with what Mozart had accomplished by age twelve, and to dwell on the differences. Even readers who never emerge from the self-induced misery of this exercise might see how powerfully this type of thinking blocks compassion, both for oneself and for others.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, 2003, p. 18-19)

Thank you, Marshall Rosenberg and Dan Greenburg, for your wisdom.

I will follow my heart’s calling and be true to myself. I will practice looking deeply to see how comparing myself to the achievements of others doesn’t nurture the peace, compassion, understanding, love, and support I want to bring into the world. I will honor myself and the contribution I can make with an open heart and sit as silent witness.

And that’s enough.

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Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping mission-driven professionals bring their lives into balance. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I'm currently in an ICF-coaching certification program. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

6 thoughts on “Death penalty and doing enough

  1. We create our own Karma I truly believe. You can’t be mean and horrible to people and not pay a price. People think that these people get away with things, but truly they are trapped in their own maze. I know a woman who was bullied by her crappy minded husband for years. Finally she decided to go back to school and get her own life together. She decided to leave her bully husband who never supported her on anything. She and her special needs child took the leap of faith. I remember her tears, her sorrow. It crushed her to have a beautiful home and ended out on the street. The worse part was her ex husband who was already sleeping with another woman trying to yank her chain during the divorce proceedings. I could feel and see her pain. All I could do was listen to her, encourage her and help her when she needed it. Today, she has her degree, and a super job with great benefits, she bought a house of her own and is doing wonderful. She has her heart and smile back and is truly happy. Her ex on the other hand is not doing well. His business is failing and he isn’t making the support payments for his son. I told my friend long ago that Karma would catch up to her ex, and it did. The most beautiful part of this story is this. Last week she asked me to pray for him, she knows he’s going through a tough time and that her son still needs his daddy. All I could think was WOW! The good book says we never get a way with anything. “For what was done in the dark, will be revealed in the light. Our society considers forgiveness a weakness. The movies have revenge as the only answer. Not so, because revenge will never be enough. Our only true escape from hatred and revenge is love.

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    • “The only way out of revenge and hatred is love”. I love that quote and I truly agree with you. We need to water the seeds of love, compassion, mindfulness, joy, peace, harmony, inclusion within ourselves and others. If we have watered seeds of hatred, anger, jealousy, fear, despair, those will grow stronger and eventually manifest in our lives as harmful actions. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that our only true belongings are our actions. Is that what you mean with Kharma? That you cannot escape the consequences of your actions, that sooner or later they will catch up with you and ask you to make new, more wholesome choices? If so, I agree with you, and I hope we all find enough support to do so.

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  2. Oh, those “shoulds.” How a should obliterates the goodness of what already is.

    Also, I’m reminded of the overwhelming need people seem to have for retribution. And I feel it too! That someone who creates suffering should suffer (death being the ultimate end of that thinking). NVC would say ppl don’t “need” retribution but rather justice or fairness. Is that right Elly? Richard? For me this is a very deep and difficult question: how do we translate a need for justice INTO a desire for retribution? Is it something to do with evolution? Is it merely cultural? (Are there any cultures that don’t trade in retribution?)

    Popular culture (especially in the US) loves retribution and punishment. For example, I LOVED watching the series Vikings, even as I saw the ridiculousness and wanton destruction that the will to retribution caused.

    Thank you for the post, Elly! Thank you, Richard, for the talk on Monday. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Randi, for your comment. I appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

      Yes, I agree with you that retribution is not a universal, human need. Restoration, trust, understanding, connection, safety, I consider universal, human needs. There are other ways to support those needs than our current American penal system, including the death penalty. Marshall Rosenberg talks about cultures where the paradigm is around restoration between those who acted, those who are directly impacted, and the larger community. Desmond Tutu gave a powerful example of restoration and understanding with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He led meetings where perpetrators and victims were heard. I remember crying and feeling touched to my soul as I saw those impacted by the act and those having committed the act speak and listen to each other. It was sometimes heart wrenching, and yet I cannot imagine a more powerful tool to contribute to a society based on understanding, connection, and new beginnings. The Netherlands, from what I can tell, also has an emphasis on restoration and rehabilitation. We rather support people learn skills to help them contribute to society, rather than punish them for crimes. That, for me, is what including all needs means.

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  3. Very well said Miss Elly. I too am against the death penalty. MLK said, violence begets violence. I agree with this. Our world goes from one extreme to another, their never seems to be a balance. I just read on facebook, someone said, “All things can be cured by love.” “What if that doesn’t work?” one asked. “Then add the dosage.” The death penalty isn’t a form of punishment that I see, it’s a form of release of accountability. I’d rather a man serve his life seeing the error of his way and trying to reconcile his life by doing good in the environment that he is in, then releasing him to the other side. I see killing a man with the death penalty as getting a free pass.

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