From Iceland — The Opportunity: After Utøya

The Opportunity: After Utøya

Published August 21, 2011

The Opportunity: After Utøya

I don’t know much about Jens Stoltenberg. He is a Norwegian politician and I assume he’s no better or worse than his colleagues. But I would like to elaborate on a few words delivered by Stoltenberg during a memorial service, words which have circulated the web following the terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya.
The remarks were first made by Helle Gannestad, a young woman and a member of the Norwegian Labour Party, who followed the events of July 22nd through the media with horror and posted this clear-cut message on Twitter:

“If one man can cause so much evil, imagine how much love we can create together.”

These are sharp words and important. Their importance is doubled by the way in which they are brought to the world—uttered by a politician, the elected leader of millions.
Their importance is redoubled by the time of their utterance—in the wake of hateful and ignorant attacks against his people.
The weight of these words is redoubled again by the thought of what Stoltenberg might have said instead; which words many would have expected from a man of power, native to the antagonistic political arena.
What is the essence of these words and others similar, spoken by Stoltenberg? It is this:
Let’s use love to steer through this violence. Those who love will always outnumber and outweigh those who hate.
This message conveys a deep human kindness and it is likely to inspire Norwegians with love and life at a time when feelings of hate and vengeance could come naturally.
”We will hunt them down,” said another leader of millions ten years ago. “And justice will prevail,” he added—right before he attacked two separate countries in the name of justice, which has still not been done, much rather lost.
There is a great and significant difference between these two national leaders. One is driven by hate and vengeance, the other acts out of inspiration and love.
John Lennon, my son and you

“War is over—if you want it”

These are the words of John Lennon, another man who understood the power of love and the simplicity of finding peace. My eight-year-old son understands this as well. He understands Lennon’s declaration because I have explained it to him and because every day I do my best to practice love and peace.
Together, my son and I have watched the Imagine Peace Tower cast its simple and direct light of peace from the island of Viðey, we have discussed the idea behind the tower, discussed John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s message, discussed giving peace a chance, that peace is always within reach if you want to, that peace is a decision, that violence is never justified, that loving yourself and others is a decision—a very simple decision that light is stronger than darkness.
Why do I bring my son and my parenting into this context? Because I have decided that I need to be pre-emptive and speak to him of war and peace, of love and hate.
Because as a parent, that’s what I’m meant to do.
What I must do.
Why? Because the affairs of the world have already been brought to my son, without my permission and without his expressed consent. Here I refer to the dialogue of society as a whole; the indirect message of hate and justified retribution received by every one of us on a daily basis.
Children do not have a perfect understanding of the world, but their senses are more highly attuned than those of us adults. They sense the streams and currents that surround them, sometimes through information and sometimes through emotions and feelings. And from these currents they draw conclusions and create their own pretext on which to ground their lives.
What is the message society gives to children (and all of us)? A message of peace? Or a message of justified anger, revenge, conflict, separation, and violence? Many cartoons, children’s’ films and adventures revolve around the battle of good and evil, as it is central to human existence—and each individual’s existence. The children see, hear and feel each conflict; hear their parents argue, see drivers extending rude gestures, and hear football crowds yell hateful words at the referee or members of the opposing team.
The news covers conflict and crime. Political coverage revolves around personal battles and trench warfare, where political leaders shoot at each other with words and phrases as though it were a part of their job description.
Society’s message is this, in short:
Violence is a law of nature.
Violence is very often justifiable.
Violence is justified, for a good cause.
Violence is justified, if your cause is good.
Taking revenge is a natural response to an attack.
In the media, love is displayed on special occasions and in times of dire need; we see love and kindness as the last item of the news of the hour—a short “human interest” story on children or animals, a cute footnote, a minor detail.
I don’t want my son to take violence for granted. I will not stand by and let him gradually buy into society’s message – that is why I interrupt him pre-emptively with talk of love and peace. I talk to him because that is my responsibility.
I want my son to take love for granted; as a primal force of life and the correct and healthy take on life.
In the aftermath of shock and catastrophe we all understand Helle Gannestad’s message, echoed by Stoltenberg:

“If one man can cause so much evil, imagine how much love we can create together.”

We understand these words and agree with them, wholeheartedly—we understand and agree at the moment of distress when one hateful human being has carefully planned and financed acts of murder and injury.
But extreme times of distress are uncommon, fortunately. It is not every day we are faced with an evil of this magnitude. But that is exactly why we forget. That is why we don’t live by this message of love, day by day.
We forget. We allow ourselves to be frustrated, angered, upset and revolted by the smallest things. We get defensive towards our partners and family members, friends and acquaintances. In our minds we dissociate ourselves from “others” and thereby foster division and separation. To some degree, we all do this. And we act as though it’s OK to react to the world around us with antipathy, to take part in conflict. Yet deep inside we understand that the difference between everyday antipathy and pathological hatred, as displayed in Norway on July 22, 2011, is only a matter of degree.
The difference is quite large, but it’s still only a difference in magnitude and severity, rather than a difference in nature—because all forms of hatred erode and injure.
At our core we understand that all you need is love. That the first step towards peace on Earth is personal peace, a stance driven by love, rather than revenge, frustration, anger and separation.
The opportunity: After Utøya
This is the opportunity. After Utøya. After any catastrophe:
We always have an opportunity to react to hatred with love—our own “mundane” and daily hatred, as well as the unfathomable hatred which kills and injures others.
We always have an opportunity to take a deep breath and understand that love is the primal force of life; that hatred is a deception, a distortion of life, that hatred is an unfortunate misunderstanding.
And last but not least: We always have the opportunity to make the decision to practice and to talk about love every day; to talk about love with ourselves, with our friends and family and with our children.
Our role is to meet hateful propaganda with courage and love, whether it surfaces at a family gathering or in online discussion forums. Our duty is to talk about love every day because so many are willing to tell us – through media, news and our culture of consumption – that hate is normal and even necessary.
This is the opportunity: The decision to remember, the decision to be pre-emptive, for peace. After Utøya. After everything. Always.
Love and peace.
Not only on special occasions. Not just in times of distress.
Love and peace. Always.

Translated into English by Björn Unnar Valsson.

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