“You compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.”
“That’s why it’s so important: it separates us from them.”
– Ducard/Ra’s al’Ghul & Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins
Most of the quotes I share, I must admit, have lessons which I can talk about in a bit more of an abstract sense. This one, by contrast, is hitting home with me on a more personal level right now. I share this quote with a deep feeling of remorse for my mistakes.
This exchange comes at a moment where Bruce Wayne, soon to become the Batman, has been tested by his mentor and has displayed excellent skill and cunning. Now, however, he must prove himself one final time, for the organization that he is joining has a long, bloody history which they want him to contribute to. So, the question is, can he take the life a man guilty of theft and murder? He answers no, that he is no executioner, and this is why: because he needs his compassion to separate himself from the villains he intends to fight.
I remember, years ago, citing a quote about becoming so determined to beat one’s enemy that one becomes the enemy oneself. I see now that it especially means becoming one’s worst self, doing the things the enemy does, until there is no longer any real distinction. It’s not only the contest between what seems more effective and what seems more honorable, but the struggle, deep in one’s soul, between doing that one brutal thing that one really wants to do… or maintaining the sanctity of one’s cause by maintaining one’s own integrity.
Bruce Wayne hits the difference between the two on the head with his support of the ideal of compassion. It is when we stop to love each other, after all, the we become monsters, doing cruel, destructive, inhuman things to each other. It is that lack of love, combined with the overwhelming will of mob mentality, which has fueled uncountable riots in my country for years. These are displays of brutality, of savagery, which have left incalculable property damage, destroyed livelihoods, burnt and looted stores, and the bodies of those who have been assaulted, raped, and murdered. And those to whom the political ideology of these rioters is useful have said and done nothing, uttered no condemnation whatsoever.
By contrast, a crowd of protestors, likely spearheaded by people who were not truly friendly to their cause, stormed the Capitol Building, where Congress was in sessions. A few broken windows, one person, a protestor, shot and killed, and everyone on that side of the aisle has turned on the protestors. To a man, they have condemned the violence and all those remotely connected to it, turning about face to permit what they were opposing mere moments earlier. In short: they held their own to some sort of standard and refused to compromise on it.
That standard is compassion, respect for authority, and a commitment to peaceful protest without any sort of violence.
And I must admit, I have been torn on the subject.
I like to think of myself as a man of honor and compassion, but, more humbly, I must admit that while I try… I sometimes fail. And I fear I failed for several days this week.
I, too, have a savage side, and a practical side that insists that there are worlds of differences between the protestors in my nation’s capital this week and the rioters that have run rampant in every other corner of my country for years on end. And yet… is it not still violence? Is it not still violence perpetrated by a mob in a frenzy? Is it not still, as one may reasonably suspect, the work of unfriendly puppeteers?
Is not that voice within me, which tells me that violence between the two sides is inevitable, the voice of fear, rather than the voice of courage? Is it not anger, rather than love? Is it not wild hatred, rather than disciplined, patience, and faith?
I weep at the realization that, somewhere along the way, I confused my desire for freedom with a desire to put a noose around those who would put chains on me.
Oh, how easy it really is, to become one’s worst self.
I must do better.
We must, I must, stay separate from the enemy.
If we do not hold ourselves somehow separate from the behavior of our enemies, on both an individual and a collective level, then do we not simply become our enemies? Or at least become the same as our enemies? If we do that, then what’s the point?