The Cycle of Pain and Hatred
The stories we tell ourselves are what define who we are and what actions we take. And by extension, they also define who we are not and what actions we don’t take.
A nation is a story — a story we tell ourselves about who we are and who we are not. “I am Indian, and therefore not Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Nepali or Chinese or Burmese or of any other nationality.”
Nationalism is another story — one that we tell ourselves about how we defend our story of the Indian nation and how we don’t.
And as is the nature of stories, these mutate too. The kernel remains the same, but the narrative we spin around this kernel changes a little bit with each person who hears the story and who in turn tells it to themselves and others.
But is war a story?
The reasons for going to war, definitely, are. “This land belongs to us. Here, we exercise our sovereignty. For this is our way of life and living. And it is different from yours.”
In defence of these imagined stories, tangible lives are laid down. Who is to blame for these deaths? Who is to be held accountable? And from whom can a commensurate recompense be claimed?
If stories define what we do and what we don’t, can we blame the stories we tell ourselves and get off the hook for our actions? Can we say we did what we did to them to protect us, our nation, and our nationalism?
And what about their stories, their nations, their loss? Does our story justify it all?
We go to war these days in the name of peace. The rhetoric says that we must fight now so that in the years to come, we can enjoy peace. We must die today so that fewer of us die tomorrow.
Has war led to less death?
Yes, when we take a horizon of millennia we cannot deny that more war has led to more coherent nations and more coherent protection systems and thus reduced the per capita death toll across humanity. Steven Pinker can inform you better on this.
But has war led to more war too?
Yes, quite unfortunately so. The pain of loss we experience in one war leads us to seek justice. This pursuit of justice creates hatred for the people who brought about our loss. And this hatred simmers for a long time till it boils up into another war.
In Naruto Shippuuden, Masashi Kishimoto has put it in better words than I can. When two disciples of Jiraiya, a peace-seeking wandering sage, come to war in defence of their paths to create universal harmony, we see the same struggle there that we see today between two warring nations.
Nagato, or Pain as he calls himself, has seen more war than Naruto. And so Nagato asks of his younger sibling-disciple what he can do to end this cycle of hatred and pain.
Here, watch it yourself.
And once you have heard Nagato, ask yourself the same question: how would you confront this hatred to create peace?
Maybe, just maybe, the story you tell yourself will be the answer that has eluded us thus far.