by Ervin Laszlo and Barbara Marx Hubbard

There is a well-known saying in France that the French people and all people on this conflict-ridden planet would do well to take to heart. Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner. To understand all is to forgive all. Because to understand is to forgive.

Can one forgive the wanton murder of hundreds of innocent people? There is an emotional, gut-reaction that says no, this is unforgivable. Yet there is another answer that tells us that if we understand why this murderous event took place, we can also forgive it. To forgive it is not to give in to it and to forget it, but to learn from it and not be blocked by it. Can we understand why the Paris attacks took place; understand it not as economic and political infighting but as a consequence of the nature of existence in the contemporary world?

Consider the real-world context. Here we are, a species on the brink of self-initiated self-destruction and perhaps extinction, killing each other for achieving goals that do not change the course on which we find ourselves. We are on course to collide with a giant iceberg while we fight for a privileged position on the deck—the deck of the Titanic. We call the iceberg climate change, a process that, if allowed to proceed unchanged, would make it impossible for all 7.4 billion humans to survive. Can just some of us survive and not all? Would we not unleash the kind of conflict and violence of which today’s attacks are a tragic but limited foretaste? How many millions, or billions, would have to disappear from the face of the Earth for the rest of us to live? And would there be a “rest of us” altogether? We could destroy the conditions for all higher forms of life on Earth, and if it heats up and becomes arid like a desert—as Mars is today—the planet itself would foreclose the chances of existence for higher forms of life.

Fighting, killing, is a misguided, unproductive, and desperately wrong response to today’s problems, as it is to all problems. This is clear, but is the response to it more of the same? What would it do for us if we took revenge and respond to terror with terror, violence with violence, as our political leaders intend to do? Do we not just hasten the encounter of our planetary spaceship with the iceberg ahead?

Forgiveness is not staying with the status quo, not failing to act to change and to transform. It is to act like a presumably intelligent species would act on an interdependent and seriously endangered planet: with empathy and insight, shared vision and common resolve. To survive on Earth we need to act together with understanding, and not separately with rancor, rejection, and revenge.

Can we understand the reason for the Paris attacks, and acts like them wherever they take place? Let us attempt a deeper understanding. Let us see ourselves as members of one family. There are no “others” in this family, only ”us.” 

We have serious and rapidly growing existential problems in this family, and not only the threat of an unfavorably altered climate. A few of us have great wealth and power, while most of us are abjectly poor and powerless. The less privileged among us are increasingly frustrated and some invoke a higher mission to justify their struggle for a better life. Others are keen to hold on to whatever power and privilege they possess with all the means at their disposal. Conflicts erupt: we fight among us. Some of our fights engender major violence, and the consequences spread across the face of the Earth. Others come in to help some factions of our family fight some of the other factions. Those who are being fought want to stop the interventions. Some are desperate and do not hesitate to use all the means at their disposal to support their aims, even invoking the power of a higher cause. These people are not the devil, and they are not pure evil. They are desperate members of the human family whose sense of family has been overwhelmed by their condition. In this regard they are not entirely different from all of those who come into the fight brandishing arms and wielding their power of destruction.

What do we do now? Continuing to help some of us against some others only exarcerbates the conflict and spreads the fighting. This deflects our attention from recognizing that we are living, and now fighting, on the deck of the Titanic. If we choose revenge as the way to proceed, future archeologists visiting from another planet will discover that there was once a civilization on Earth, but it disappeared when the inhabitants made the planet inhospitable to life. They will not know for sure whether the inhabitants had recognized the problem and tried to change course while they could. We, the inhabitants, now need to steer another course. Cooperation based on understanding, instead of fighting motivated by revenge, is such a course.

Paris has become the venue for a nearly (even if sadly not entirely) unparelleled act of violence. It will soon be the venue for an entirely unprecedented attempt to keep humanity alive and flourishing on the planet. Can we understand and forgive the violence and move forward, seizing the opportunity before us? Let us remember Paris as the place where the resolve was born to maintain life and civilization on Earth, and not where that resolve was destroyed before it could even have come into existence.