As the nation breathes a sigh of relief that we are not immediately embarking on another military adventure in Syria, we can take a deeper look into ourselves and our own collective psyches, and what we see is not pretty. I'd like to talk directly about one generally neglected part of Vladimir Putin's address to the American public. In the days following Putin's appeal, there has been lots of talk of Syria and comments on the Russian president's motivations. But have we actually considered this part of what he said? I'd like to quote one paragraph from his New York Times article:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States' policy is 'what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional.' It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Now isn't this true? Whether or not we are skeptical of the Putin's motives or even his religious consciousness, can't we acknowledge the truth of his statement? Don't we make ourselves special, exceptional, and therefore entitled to do what we want, as long as we can get away with it?
Evidently when the United States used Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam and other theaters of war, that behavior was not chemical warfare, because we don't do stuff like that, even though we did.
Agent Orange, for those who don't know, is a chemical herbicide that not only destroys people's habitat and food supply, which starves them and causes displacement and long-term damage to the land, but it also caused thousands of deaths and continuing birth defects. One study estimated as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange. And because the U.S. would never engage in chemical warfare, because we're not those kinds of guys, U.S. soldiers were forced to fight our own government to force recognition of the toxic effects of Agent Orange on our own soldiers. And regarding Napalm, Napalm is a chemical bomb that sets people on fire and burns them alive. We used napalm extensively in Vietnam and earlier in Korea. The United Nations finally banned napalm for use against people in 1980, but many of us watched in horror as videos were shown on TV, demonstrating again that the U.S. used chemical warfare, but wouldn't call it such.
But I guess we can do this, because we're exceptional, and our interests or views give us exceptional rights. And let's add to this one further hypocrisy: We can bomb Syria (which we haven't done yet) or Iraq or anyone we please, yet no one should ever be allowed to bomb us for using Napalm or Agent Orange or doing anything else. We were aghast at the bombing of the World Trade Center, while we feel free to invade other counties. And can you imagine the uproar if we were embargoed, invaded or forced into "regime" change because of something we did that other nations disliked, such as slavery, segregation or child labor? Did the Vietnamese have the right or the opportunity to oust President Nixon and replace him with a peace candidate?
I am not suggesting that we should never use military force. But what I am questioning is our hypocrisy. How can we stand and condemn others for what we do and have done? What makes us entitled?
I don't love Putin, but I love what he said: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
No one is exceptional, neither individuals, religions or nations. I am not created by God to be different from you, and I don't have a right to hurt others using that mantle. Extremely talented people can think that their gifts exempt them from the constraints that are placed on others. They can molest, abuse, be unfaithful, abandon children, carouse, heckle and hurt others because they are SO exceptional. Extremely wealthy may think they can bend the rules and manipulate the system for their own ends. Extremely rigid religious groups may think they have the right to pressure others into conversion, invade the land of the infidels or burn heathens at the stake, as has been exemplified not only by Muslims, but by Christians as well.
This self-conceit and self-deception has shown up in our collective American psyche from our beginnings. When we began our unrelenting march across our continent, it was considered to be what we later called our "Manifest Destiny." I guess to us it was obvious that it was our destiny to grab as much land as possible from whoever happened to be there, whether it was the French, English, Spanish, Dutch or especially Native Americans. That is not aggression in our eyes, because we are special.
And this exceptionalism also shows up in our homes and personal environments. I'm smarter than you, so I should receive special treatment. I'm better looking, so I should be excused from being kind. I'm too talented to bother washing dishes. And I'm too wrapped up with important considerations, such as making money, to worry about the children that I sired.
Are we kidding? Every being has an equal right to live, and we all have needs. If we keep believing that there are exceptional people, races, genders or nations, we are creating monsters -- people who have the right to consume more resources, dominate others and disregard the needs of the whole. And the only thing that stops them and us is the power of those other exceptional people who think they have the right to exert their will over us.
In closing, I invite us to engage in some self-examination. Let us now, each one of us, acknowledge how we consider ourselves exceptional or special and what benefits we thereby feel entitled to. And let us also acknowledge that these considerations are deceits that trap us into roles that hurt us and one another. Are we ready to give them up?
Beth Green is a spiritual teacher, author and counselor. You can meet Beth through her exciting internet radio program, InsideOut, available live every Tuesday at 3 pm Pacific time or via podcast anytime thereafter. She's looking for guests with ruthless self-honesty and interesting things to say. Living with Reality, her 688-page book on human behavior, is available free on the internet through any of her websites. Please check out her personal website, or discover The Stream Center for The New Spirituality, her community, where you will learn about the many programs and services being offered for collective wellbeing and mutual support.