Last night I dreamed that I was in a train station with my grandmother. Sitting across from us was a man holding a big live bird that appeared to be his pet. Suddenly, the man pulled out a meat cleaver and began hacking away at the bird. At first, I couldn't believe that he was actually slicing the bird. I thought he must be hitting it with the dull end as some kind of sick joke. But when I saw bloody cuts in the bird and saw the bird flap its wings and heard it cry out in pain, I was beside myself. At one point, the bird just looked at the man as though it were saying: "I loved you and trusted you. Why are you doing this terrible thing to me?" And there was a mixture of fear and helpless resignation in its eyes.
I couldn't bear to watch any more of this, so I jumped up and began to leave the terminal when the man said to me, in a British or Australian accent, something like, "What's wrong? Why are you leaving?" I don't recall my exact words of reply, but I do remember that I told him off for committing such a barbaric act against that poor bird and in front of all of us. People in the terminal cheered me. And then I stepped outside. My grandmother followed me out. I felt angry toward the man, profoundly sad for the bird, and proud of myself for being strong enough to speak up against that man's cruelty.
What would I do in real life?
Speaking of barbarous acts, it appears as though the two American soldiers captured by insurgents last weekend in Iraq were tortured to death. It wasn't reported exactly how they died, but their recovered bodies were said to have been mutilated beyond recognition and there was strong evidence that they had died in a "barbaric" way. A statement from a group believed to be linked to al Qaeda crowed, "We announce the good news to our Islamic nation that we executed God's will and slaughtered the two crusader animals we had in captivity."
Part of me wants to find those responsible and subject them (and their families) to the most protractedly excruciating deaths the human mind can devise. The better part of me looks at their language of having "slaughtered" the "animals" and thinks that we must not give in to the impulse to dehumanize these individuals or anyone else. That may not stop others from dehumanizing us and ours, but, at least, we can do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and maybe, just maybe if we did that consistently, an increasingly wide circle of other people would do the same over time.
But whether they did or didn't, WE would be doing the right thing. But, instead, we and our leaders will call these individuals "evil monsters," and the cycle of violence will continue indefinitely, perhaps spinning completely out of control. And not only will we harm, mutilate, and destroy each other with our violent thoughts and deeds. We will also harm, mutilate, and destroy ourselves.