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Our message of basic human goodness, kindness, and compassion are universal and should be shared with all people, not just those who chose a life of violence and/or racist ideology. Our message is just as important for those whose identity is without choice. The voices of those who have experienced violence and discrimination because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, point of origin or for just being who they are – unique.
These changes, unlike the changes facilitated by my children, came with an abundance of self-realization and acute awareness. You see, I was not only greatly affected by his acts of compassion for me, but also in my own practice of compassion towards others; I found that I was also profoundly changed.
We don’t get angry with a computer if it has a virus or it crashes often because we have an awareness and understanding of the flaws that are inherent with the operating system. When it comes to people we seem to lack that awareness. We get angry when we encounter someone with a virus or trojan that has infected the programs running in their mind, their human operating system, thus altering their behavior. We forget that there is nothing wrong with the computer itself but somewhere along the way some files became corrupted.
It started with me where I think it starts for most of us: in childhood. You may see me as different from you and my story different from yours, but what I would like you to remember, as I begin, is that we have all been searching for something and trying to find ways to get it. Even if some of those ways are dysfunctional or destructive.
My father was a very busy doctor, and as such, neither me nor my mother saw very much of him. I missed my father and I was angry at him for not being available. Like all children I needed connection. As a result, my mother and I developed a very dysfunctional and suffocating relationship as I became her primary relationship. This enmeshed relationship with my mother led me to develop a very fierce need for independence.
In preschool, I was always doing what the other kids weren’t. If they were painting I was reading, if they were reading I was painting.
At the age of 10, I walked in on my father having sex with another woman. My anger turned to rage and I began to act out at school. Later, I was regularly being caned while attending Catholic school, and trained that violence was an appropriate tool to get your message across.
Even if this was not your experience, there is a good chance that you shared in some of the feelings I did as a young boy with the background I just explained. The feelings of insignificance, being unlovable, powerlessness, and the deep desire to seek acceptance and approval from an unavailable parent. Does any of that sound familiar to you?
By the age of 12 my desire for independence fueled by my rage at my father found a great outlet listening to punk rock. At 15, I returned from boarding school, where I was introduced to the skinhead culture. I became fully immersed in the punk scene and was hanging out with the skinheads at home.
That boy who had felt insignificant, powerless, and disapproved of found an accepting family in the the skinhead culture, and an outlet to vent my rage on other people. I see now that the music and the lifestyle gave me permission to commit horrific acts for which I am now ashamed. As I stated earlier, school had trained me that the use of violence to make people do what I wanted was okay.
I knew I was intelligent because my teachers constantly told me I was—while they caned me for not meeting their expectations. When the combustion of my anger and intelligence mixed with the white power ideology, the results were explosive.
It wasn’t long before any feelings of insignificance dissipated as I found myself doing television and newspaper interviews. At the grand of age of 21, as brilliant and as wise as I thought I was, I found myself on the Montel Willliams show (not once but twice). Can you imagine the significance, the power, the acceptance and approval that I felt from my peers?
I shed my skinhead uniform for a suit and tie and switched from street fights to court fights in a battle of ego and ideology.
What I didn’t know at the height of my ego was that things were about to change in a way I could not have imagined…
I remember the day my daughter was born and I held her in my hands. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, you know that is the day your life is changed forever. Something more important than yourself, your peer group, or even your ideology has entered your world and you will never be the same.
I watched in amazement as she opened her eyes and looked into my eyes. In that moment I knew that my face was the very first image she would see and a strange thing happened. It started like a tingling at the top of my head and traveled down my body and out of my feet. I knew instantly that I was a changed person.
In that moment, as I held her tiny body in my hands, I realized that I was responsible for the life of this innocent hate-free human being whose very nature was to love. A deeper realization was that it was one thing for me to be reckless with my own life, but was it fair for me to be reckless with the life of this innocent loving child? To sacrifice her quality of life? There was only one obvious answer: no. I did not have that right.
I suddenly knew things could no longer be the same, but the decision to leave the movement didn’t come easy. As much as I loved my daughter and accepted the responsibility of being a father, my ego did not want to let go of “the good” fight. After all, I was in the same kind of enmeshed, smothering relationship with the movement that was I had with my mother as a child. Leaving the movement felt like I was abandoning the family that had had my back .
Fifteen months later, my son was born and I was in front of the Federal Court and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. My son’s first day in the world had me sitting in a jail cell, having been sentenced to 3 months for contempt. I was oblivious to the irony: on the day he was born I wasn’t there. I was as unavailable to my son as my father had been to me, even after I had sworn I would never do that.
Over the next 3 years, my children taught me how to love and in doing so softened my heart. Just like them, as a young child I had loved unconditionally. As I had gotten older I had been hurt and rejected and as a result became angry and vengeful. My children, simply though the act of being born, had started me on a path back to the truth of who I am: a loving and compassionate human being.
As I am sure you realize, loving a child is safe because you can love them unconditionally and they are incapable of hurting you.
I let myself fade out of the movement as I shifted my significance from being part of it to being a father. I was getting the acceptance, significance, and the feeling of being lovable I needed, but in a healthier way. Later, I was introduced to a mentor who gave me tools and processes to begin my journey inward. A journey I am still on. On this journey of discovering my true authentic self, I have learned to develop a compassion for all people no matter what race, age, or gender. I have even developed compassion for that hurt, angry boy who found an outlet in a violent ideology.
Today things are different. Although my children know my history, they do not see me as my history. In fact, I have introduced them to the same journey of self discovery. Today I am an active member of my community. The accountant I share office space with is a colored South African and one of my best friends. The associate that I share my practice with is a 6’5” Antiguan man. My ex-girlfriend is Chinese. And the mentor for this journey of self discovery and compassion—the humanity beneath any behavior or ideology—is Jewish.
It’s been an incredible journey from hate and violence to a place of compassion and forgiveness for myself and for others.
“The way in which man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or, in the bitter fight for self preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man to either make use of, or forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides if he is worthy of his sufferings.
Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”—Victor Frankl, from Man’s Search For Meaning: