I haven’t really talked about Orlando yet.
My husband and I have had various conversations online about gun control and the role of religion. We’ve spoken to each other about the need for Love, and the dangers of bigotry and hatred. I’ve read so many posts and articles, watched so many videos, most expressing sorrow or outrage or defiant resilience. But I’ve not really added my voice.
I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t wanted to speak. For one, words seem inadequate, particularly when they are coming from a white, straight, blonde haired, blue eyed, middle class, Christian woman – a cross section of nearly every category of privilege available in our world. For another far more disturbing reason, the most recent news has barely registered as shocking to me at all. How terrible is it that I live in a world where I can hear about dozens of people being slaughtered and my initial emotional reaction just barely moves past apathy? Mass murders seem to have become such a common occurrence that when news of one breaks, I think “again”.
As if they are all just the same old routine. As if the lives of those involved are all just the same.
Except… the lives of those involved are all just the same. Not in a disrespectful, brush them off, nothing about their story matters way. That’s the way I have come to react to them, but that’s not what they are. I mean that each human involved is infinitely valuable, totally unique, terribly precious, equally as flawed and equally as deserving of life as every other individual involved. They all had names and stories, families, friends, jobs, dreams. And hurts.
In all the reactions I have witnessed in response to this tragedy – let there be no doubt, regardless of my initial emotional reaction I do believe with all of my heart that this is an horrific tragedy – there are two that seem most prevalent. The first has been an expression of sorrow and of solidarity. I have seen so many calls to stand with our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, creed or orientation. I have watched thousands of people stand together weeping at vigils, weeping as a community undivided by hate or fear. As the lives of so many have been torn apart, it seems that much of the world has responded by defiantly joining together, something that is particularly powerful in the midst of an American election that seems aimed at tearing people apart. It is the right response, and it is beautiful to be witness to.
There has been a second response as well, only ever so slightly smaller than the first. As news of the massacre spread, the flames of fear and rage have spread too. Of course there is the obvious example: the rhetoric of Trump renewing his cries for a ban on Muslim immigration, blaming the actions of this U.S. citizen on Obama (who apparently traveled back in time and let the shooter’s parent’s into the country). But there are plenty of seemingly less egregious expressions of fear and rage as well. It seems only natural in the face of such an evil act to define the killer by that evil, to identify them as “other”, not human, not us. We speak out against not just their actions but against them, each of us trying to push the perpetrator as far away from any connection to us as possible. “He was a Muslim, Islam is the problem” says the Christian. “He was religious, religion is the problem” says the atheist. “He was an extremist, extremism is the problem” says the Muslim. “He had access to guns, guns are the problem” says the person who believes in gun control. “He was mentally ill, mental illness is the problem” says the mentally sound. “He was closeted, bigotry is the problem” say those who are out.
I get it. In fact, I do it. In moments of fear and anger, it seems so natural to box the evil-doer in as the other, to protect ourselves from them and to distance them from ourselves. “I would never do that” we rationalize – even when on occasion we may find ourselves identifying with some part of their thinking or some experience from their life. “They did something so evil, they have to be a monster” we tell ourselves as we look for comfort in our differences from them. “I’m sane, I’m just, I know when to get help, I have appropriate outlets for my anger, I am right”, we say. “I would never commit such violence”.
I would never commit such violence, I say to myself. But it’s a lie.
One of my favourite Christian bloggers – Rachel Held Evans – posted a poignant response to the Orlando massacre. In it, she talked about the leaders in the Christian church responding with calls to love and support the LGBTQ community in this time of tragedy. While this is absolutely the right response, she noted that many in the LGBTQ find these calls to love ring hollow. Why? Because the same people who are now calling for love and support have spent years sowing seeds of hatred, contempt and disgust for the LGBTQ community. It is their words and ideas that have propagated so much of the violence against the LGBTQ community, by fueling societal attitudes of bigotry. Their forked tongues seem to preach love and support at the same time as they continue to relegate those in the LGBTQ community to second-class citizenship, to unworthy outsiders, making clear at all times that “they” are “other”.
This is an act of violence.
With each wedge we push between ourselves and our fellow man, we contribute to the violence. I would argue that even though lack of gun control and bigotry and extremism are all contributors to the massacres we see on an almost daily basis now, they are all rooted in something that is far more pervasive and to which we all contribute in some way or another on a daily basis: The violence of disconnection. It is disconnection that leads us to believe we need to protect ourselves from our neighbours with guns, in case the need arises for us to decide between killing or being killed. As if we aren’t all in this together. It is disconnection that allows us to convince ourselves that someone’s differences are more important and more profound than the things we share. It is disconnection that pushes outsiders to search for anything and anywhere to belong, and to hold on so tightly that they will give their lives for an ideology of hate because at least inside that hate they were finally offered a sense of belonging and connection. They were allowed to funnel all of their hurt and rejection back toward those who told them – and keep telling them – that they will never be allowed on the “inside”.
While it feels natural and right to distance ourselves from those who commit these atrocities, it is far more honest – and far more difficult – to acknowledge that those committing these acts are more “us” than they are “other”. When we spend our time putting more and more distance between ourselves, we contribute to the violence that spurred these evil acts in the first place. We become part of the violence we are denouncing. Our forked tongues shout solidarity and seclusion in the same breath. And we truly believe that in doing so we are right.
It is a painful thing to acknowledge that it is not just the victims we share so much in common with. These evil-doers often have families and children, friends, jobs. They grew up in communities just like ours. And as much as it is convenient to tell ourselves that their otherness is what made it possible for them to go to such lengths – an otherness we swear we do not share – I don’t believe that’s usually the reality.
The reality is that we are all broken people in our own way. We are all violent people in our own way. We search for opportunities to tell ourselves we are better, stronger, kinder… different. And while my impact may not seem great on its own, when you combine the billions of tiny fractures we humans make in the fabric of our society each day, you start to comprehend the culmination of our violence, and the damage it does.
We are part of the problem. When we react to violence with violence, we are part of the problem. When we convince ourselves they were “other” we are part of the problem. When we contribute to the disconnection of humanity by polarizing one group against another, by separating “us” from “them” we are part of the problem.
Violence isn’t just guns in crowded bathroom stalls, or bombs in public spaces. Violence is the words and actions we use every day towards each other. And the evil we see is the culmination of that violence and that disconnection.
Until we are willing to acknowledge our part in the violence of our world, we cannot become part of the solution. As long as we are intent on putting each other into boxes, we will continue to propagate the very evil we swear we would never participate in.
But when we see it, when we call it what it is and understand that no matter how small it may seem, a billion tiny words spoken together become a deafening roar, then we can speak different words. We can speak words of connection, and love and healing. As our voices leave, the roar of hatred and violence will grow ever weaker, and the call of us, of humanity, of one, will inevitably drown it out.
You are one small voice. Speak for peace. Speak for unity. Speak for humanity.
Speak for us all.
Choose to connect.
We are all human.
We are all in this together.