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October 2001
Toward a Universal Consciousness

By Melanie Joy


During this very dark time in which many of us are struggling to rekindle some semblance of faith for the future of our planet, I wanted to share with you all something I saw recently which comforted and inspired me.

I was watching television around midnight, when one of the major networks aired a report about America as it was the day before the attack. I was stunned by the fact that, for the first time since I can remember, I witnessed some of my deepest ideals reflected and broadcast by corporate, mainstream media. The focus was on our previous naivete, and the way in which it had led us to spend our lives focusing on trivia, on petty power struggles, on superficialities that have compelled us to live so unconsciously. The news program scrolled down the headlines of various newspapers from pre-terrorist attack Monday and flashed media reports that focused on issues such as sex scandals, sports highlights, industry sales, and fashion blunders. The reporter expressed astonishment that we could have found such matters so compelling and relevant. He even quoted a cosmetics counter saleswoman as saying that she felt “ridiculous” trying to sell lipstick when it was so meaningless in the whole scheme of things. The report concluded by quoting a statistic that showed a dramatic increase in attendance of religious services.

I share this with you all because it has helped me to recover some of my lost optimism, to begin to see the silver lining beneath the haze that hangs over the world right now. I have been deeply depressed and concerned about our nation’s kneejerk reaction to recent events, to the widespread support to perpetuate what is clearly a cycle of violence.

I am beginning to realize that what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—though horrible beyond description—can offer an opportunity for dialogue about violence and peace in a way previously impossible. Recent events may, indeed, have opened a crack in the collective consciousness of humanity, so that we are more able to listen with open hearts to the suffering of others.

The destruction of the WTC gripped America in a way unparalleled in U.S. history. We have seen the victims of violence as individuals, recognized their humanity—their beingness—and identified with their pain and the pain of their families. Perhaps this sentiment will spill beyond our borders, beyond our species, to other victims of violence.

So maybe some healing can come from this terrible tragedy. By keeping our focus on nonviolence and remembering that spiritual growth and wisdom often follow suffering, we may begin to work toward the healing that we so need at this moment in history.

Melanie Joy is a doctoral candidate in psychology and is currently writing a book on the psychology of carnism. She is also an English professor and has been active in the animal rights movement for over a decade.


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