Contemplating Life and Spirituality

Game of Thrones and the Question of Right and Wrong

It’s autumn in South Africa and I can already feel a slight chill in the breeze. In moments like these I often find myself saying, with a very dramatic tone in my voice, “Winter is Coming”. And what makes quoting these words even more enjoyable is the fact that, like so many other fanboys, I’m preparing myself for the much anticipated final season of Game of Thrones. But of course, not everyone shares the same level of enthusiasm when it comes to Game of Thrones. I know of many people who don’t like the show because of all the sex, violence and gore. But to bash Game of Thrones simply because of the above-mentioned reasons is a bit unfair. Game of Thrones isn’t just sleazy, gory entertainment; it’s a lot more layered than that.

One of the things I love the most about Game of Thrones is the nuanced characters. The line between right and wrong isn’t always that clearly defined. Take Jaime Lannister for instance: Sometimes we forget that the reason why Brandon Stark is cripple is because Jaime pushed him out of a window when he was just a boy. And lets not forget the reason why Jaime pushed him out the window! But as the story progressed, Jaime has become one of the more valiant characters.

Game of Thrones and the Question of Right and WrongAnd then there’s his right hand man Bronn, who is pretty merciless and doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone but himself, but at other times, has these spontaneous spurts of honor, bravery and loyalty. There’s Tyrion Lannister, Jaime’s brother who is probably one of the most loved characters, but also a whoremonger and a drunk. And the Hound, who is all doom and gloom and thinks everyone is a “cunt”, but is actually a pretty principled man and will fight for what he believes is right.

This makes the characters believable and relatable. What we see in Game of Thrones is what we see in real life as well. Sometimes, even “bad” people show redeeming qualities and other times, even “good” people show less than desirable qualities. This idea is beautifully captured in the yin yang symbol, where the black half of the symbol contains a tiny white dot and the white half, a tiny black dot. There’s this constant push-pull of different energies and these energies dance together to form the captivating narrative that is Game of Thrones.

I like to toy with the idea that nothing is really right or wrong with people or with the world, but that everything belongs - that all the different energies, including good and evil are necessary to make the world go round.This narrative playing itself out in the land of Westeros made me ponder the narratives playing itself out in our own world as well. I like to toy with the idea that nothing is really right or wrong with people or with the world, but that everything belongs – that all the different energies, including good and evil are necessary to make the world go round.

This is a difficult philosophy, because although it sounds nice, it’s hard to see things that way. Most people have the lines between who is right or wrong clearly defined in their heads. But this is where an almost archetypal figure like Jon Snow comes in. Or we might say that this is where an almost archetypal figure like Jesus, the Buddha, Nelson Mandela or Bob Marley comes in. What did they all have in common? I believe that people like them come along to change the consciousness of the many. When everyone else wants to fight; they come to unite (I didn’t mean for that to rhyme, but it did, which is kinda cool).

Last night I watched a documentary about the events surrounding Bob Marley’s One Love peace concert in Jamaica. At the time, there was a lot of unrest in Jamaica. There were two rival political parties and they even relied on local gangs to help further their respective agendas. When the bosses of the rival gangs ended up in the same prison, they began to talk and later reached a truce. They then reached out to Bob Marley, who had already left Jamaica and was living in London after surviving an assassination attempt. They asked him to do a concert as a way of uniting the people of Jamaica. During the concert, Bob Marley invited the two leaders of the opposing political parties to come on stage where he made them shake hands. With the One Love peace concert, Bob Marley made the different and opposing energies dance together through his music.

Tthere are only three ways in which opposite energies can relate to one another. Either this one tries to dominate that one or that one tries to dominate this one. This is most often the case when it comes to human interactions, or rather, ego interactions. But the third way, which we often see in nature is when the two find a way to dance together in balanced accord.And therein lies a clue, because there are only three ways in which opposite energies can relate to one another. Either this one tries to dominate that one or that one tries to dominate this one. This is most often the case when it comes to human interactions, or rather, ego interactions. But the third way, which we often see in nature is when the two find a way to dance together in balanced accord. Again, an idea beautifully illustrated in the yin yang symbol. And of course, it might sound very hippie-peace-and-love, but it’s obviously a lot easier said than done. Because what if the other political party, ideology, religion or person is so opposed to you that no such balanced accord seems possible?

The thing that we might benefit from remembering here is that whenever opposing energies collide, there will be conflict. And conflict isn’t a bad thing; in-fact, it’s a very necessary thing. Paradoxically, conflict only seems to become a bad thing when we try to eliminate it. I don’t want to fight with my wife anymore, so I divorce her; I don’t want “those” people in my country anymore so I chase them out or worse, kill them. War, violence, destruction etc. isn’t the result of conflict; it’s the result of an inability to engage in healthy conflict. Peace doesn’t come about when white eliminates black or black eliminates white; peace comes about when black and white learn to dance together. And how does that happen? Well, of course it begins with understanding.

Sometimes we become so consumed by all that is bad in the other that we fail to recognize what is good in them. Or we become so convinced of our own rightness that we fail to recognize our own wrongness. This is certainly the case in Game of Thrones. For centuries the people of Westeros hated the Wildlings and vice versa. Jon Snow is the first person to even suggest an alliance. This is because Jon gets to know them and is able to see their redeeming qualities. But more than that, Jon sees how pointless and petty the conflict among them is in comparison to the bigger threat that looms over them all – the White Walkers.

Sometimes we need to recognize a common enemy before we will unite and more often than not, that common enemy is fear. You see, the easiest way to get people to hate each other is to make them fear each other first. We don’t hate each other as much as we fear each other, and we fear what we don’t understand.

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." ~ Henry Wadsworth LongfellowI recently read a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow where he said, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Again, if we want to find peace in our relationships, communities or workplaces, it begins with understanding. Again, sometimes this is far from easy, but in most cases, when we begin to understand that which is other than us, we probably won’t fear it anymore. And when we stop fearing it, we might just find a way to dance with it.

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