I was sad to hear about the verdict in the trial for police officer Darren Wilson. I felt bad for Mike Brown’s parents who lost their son, and for all those frustrated with life in Ferguson, MO.
But then I read another article by the BBC which shows how there are many, different eye-witness stories about what happened. Many people saw what happened, but they gave different versions and different viewpoints. So it was hard for the jury to find any concrete evidence.
Reading this reminded me of a famous old Japanese movie called Rashomon, which was originally a short story by the famous author Akutagawa Ryunosuke. The story and the movie take place at the famous Rashomon Gate (羅生門) in Kyoto where three men talk about a murder that recently happened.
The murder is told from four different viewpoints. The first three (the thief, the samurai’s wife and the samurai through medium) all contradict each other. It’s clear each person is telling their version of the story out of self-interest.
Only the final version of the story seems objective but not completely.
So, the film (and novel) teaches a lesson that people are frequently motivated by self-interest and will distort the truth to suit their own beliefs or desires. Oftentimes people do this without realizing it because most of the things we do in life are motivated by self-interest anyway.
But it’s because of this distortion that we are unable to see the truth. We see what we want to see even if it is not accurate.
I guess this is partly why so many witnesses at the scene of Mike Brown’s death are so contradictory. Everyone brings their personal “baggage” and judgments. But it’s even worse on social-media. Many people who did not witness the death of Mike Brown still give their opinions. Some say Darren Wilson is a racist cop, some say Mike Brown is a thug. Some say Mike Brown is a saint, others say Darren Wilson was performing his duty in a stressful environment. Maybe all these opinions are true. Maybe none of them are true.
To me, it seems like people’s opinions on social media tell us more about that person’s “personal baggage” and views than what actually happened.
Unfortunately, we may never know the whole story.
As a Buddhist, I see the loss of life, any life,1 as tragic. Thus, regardless of why or how it happened Mike Brown’s death still affects us all. People are angry, scared, frustrated, confused and now rioting in the streets. So, regardless of what actually happened, a violent death still degrades society that much more. If we continue to act in self-interest though, the cycle will repeat and more lives will be lost.
As I wrote in a previous post, we may not always be able to help incidents like this directly, but there things we can in our own lives, and our own community that will still benefit people in places like Ferguson and others.
The Buddha gave some help advice on this, as taught in the Dhammapada:
129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.
133. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.
And elsewhere in the Metta Sutta:
Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.
Until people learn to talk face to face and listen, respect one another as fellow humans, misunderstandings will continue and violence will repeat itself. We will have to cut through the madness sooner or later or perish as a society.
P.S. More on differing viewpoints in American culture and Buddhism.
1 This is why Buddhist uses the term ‘all sentient beings’. Buddhism sees all beings equally, because the individual forms are temporary. One day a frog, the next day a banker, etc.