Every moment, I am confronted with a simple choice. Do I see the situation or the person through the lens of love, kindness, or compassion? Or do I view the event with anger, blame, and judgment?
This past week marked the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Whatever your view on the moral and ethical issues of that decision, it is hard not to be shocked by the human tragedy that ensued. It is estimated that more than 150,000 people, the vast majority of whom were innocent civilians, perished in the aftermath of these two bombings. There are fewer than 137,000 survivors – known as hibakusha in Japan – still alive today. Some of them have spent their lives committed to telling the story of the human suffering that these bombings caused in the hopes of convincing the world to abolish nuclear weapons. One such person is Setsuko Thurlow, currently aged 88, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for her lifelong work. And yet, despite these efforts from her and many other survivors, there are still nine countries today who have nuclear weapons. Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from a peak of 70,000 in 1986, the total current nuclear arsenal is estimated to be around 14,000. Each of those weapons is thousands of times more powerful and deadly than the bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I grew up in a time when the biggest threat to humanity wasn’t terrorism, or climate change, or a pandemic. It was nuclear annihilation. Beginning in the 1950s, U.S. schools instituted “duck and cover” drills, which required students to stop what they were doing and immediately seek cover underneath their desks. I remember taking part in these drills in elementary school in the late 70s and early 80s before they were eventually phased out as the Cold War came to an end. Yet, the risk of nuclear catastrophe remains, perhaps more so now than ever before. Other countries, like Iran (and now reportedly possibly Saudi Arabia), are seeking to build nuclear weapons in direct defiance of the prohibitions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the current crop of world leaders isn’t cause for comfort, to say the least.
As I reflected on the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the continuing (albeit under-appreciated) danger of nuclear weapons that still exists, I was left asking the question, “What can I do?” I felt powerless and helpless in the face of a problem that has defied solution for more than seventy years. So I revisited the words of Mother Theresa: “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.” These simple yet profound words reminded me that there is one choice I am always making, consciously or not, that can change everything. From moment to moment, throughout my day, I am confronted with this simple choice. Do I see that situation or the person through the lens of love, kindness, or compassion? Or do I view the event with anger, blame, and judgment?
I am fond of saying that the human superpower is the ability to choose the meaning you give to your circumstances. I am convinced that we are capable of choosing a meaning in every situation borne out of love, kindness, and compassion. And that if the majority of people consistently made this choice, the world would transform. I cannot singlehandedly change the course of nuclear proliferation – as much as I care about the issue, it is not my calling. The world is blessed with people like Ms. Thurlow, among many others, who thankfully are doing the hard work to end the threat of nuclear weapons. But I can clean my own front doorstep. I can consistently choose to treat my family, friends, colleagues, and clients (and yes, strangers and people with whom I strongly disagree) with love, kindness, and compassion.
In the coming days, I invite you to do your part to make the world safer. How can you consistently choose to meet the situations and people that challenge and frustrate you with more love, kindness, and compassion? A world where the majority of people are committed to making this choice will be a world where the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace will be more possible.
1. Here’s a great New York Times article on Setsuko Thurlow. Another inspiration of what it looks like to live a life committed to something much greater than yourself.
2. I practice a daily form of loving kindness meditation every morning. In my version, I repeat the following mantra: “May you be loved, may you be happy, may you be safe, and may you be healthy.” I do this while envisioning my family, friends, and loved ones. It’s an incredible way to start the day.
3. It is with some sadness and soberness that I recommend reading this Rolling Stone article, The Unraveling of America.