At a few points last week, I felt so much grief, guilt, helplessness, and confusion that I found it hard to concentrate on anything. I welcomed any stupid distraction – the stupider the better – because no one likes it when their coworkers sob into their keyboards. Especially not IT.
I wanted to express my sympathy for those I love and outrage at the senselessness of all the week’s events…at what could best be chalked up as hate crimes, but what is turning out to be an American epidemic and a global war on ignorance. Or maybe what we have for the first time are the tools that empower people to communicate in real time with the rest of the world. I don’t quite know how to put my finger on what’s happening, nor do I want to over-simplify it.
I had the privilege and honor of studying at an international school where more than half my classmates were from other countries in a relatively neutral territory. We were all others with very distinct cultures and beliefs. It was an international petri dish, where we lived together, worked together, learned and taught together, and grew together. We recognized and honored our differences in culture, language, and color. Once we learned about each other’s cultures, made the jokes, drank the drinks, partook in each other’s traditions, we moved on and we were all people. Just people – judged for our character and thoughts rather than color.
But last week, I was silent. I can’t pretend to know others’ pain – only my own. And I don’t speak to be validated but in hopes of influencing change. I don’t care if people know my position, or put me into a political, social, race, or ethnic bucket. I do care about freedom and justice, and when something’s broke, it’s in my nature to want to fix it. So sitting at home, with no particular authority or influence, I sent my sympathies to friends, prayed for their safety, threw my hands up, and put my head down.
What’s the solution? Frankly, there probably isn’t one. It’s happening the world around since the beginning of time. Every week, people are subjected to hate and ignorance based on their religion, ethnicity, color, country, class. The issue is not likely to go away, but we also don’t need to steep in our own feelings of helplessness.
En masse, love can overpower hate. We can become intolerant of ignorance.
I believe education solves a lot of things and addresses ignorance head-on. I believe media plays a large part in shaping and informing a culture. Sensationalizing headlines for competitive advantage or giving a platform to hateful public figures deteriorates us collectively. I believe the leaders of this country are obligated to set an example for the rest of the world and set a tone of understanding and peace – one of recognizing and celebrating differences while laying a foundation upon similarity.
Yeah, world peace through systemic reform is a tall order… But we needn’t sit idly by as we watch the country crumble and our neighbors and sons become victims.
Individually we can’t force change in our media, politics and criminal justice systems, but instead of giving up, we can each take peaceful action, reduce our feelings of guilt and helplessness and influence change, through proactively squashing hate in our own lives.
Today: be kind. At the risk of tipping the scales into hippy territory, smile at people at the grocery store, take your lead foot off the pedal and let someone pass in front of you, ask them about where they come from and what it took them to get there, know your neighbors, inquire as to how they’re doing and listen to their answers…or at least, keep the middle finger bridled in traffic. Approach others with sympathy, love, and understanding.
Tomorrow: get informed. Know what’s going on in your community, in the country, and in the world. Make informed decisions and patiently share your reasoning with others – but don’t wrestle with pigs, because you’ll get dirty and the pig will like it. Exercise your right to vote. Get others to vote with you. There’s a political tsunami on the horizon – let’s all get out and paddle. If together we can’t paddle hard enough, you’ll find me in Canada.
For the rest of our lives: teachers, parents, friends: be kind, be interested, share what you learn and don’t stop learning, especially with our children. While educational / political / media reform may not be immediate, we can start teaching younger generations how to not just be tolerant of others, but appreciative even, that differences are good, and that culture is a beautiful tapestry – not paint. Teach them to use their words rather than their fists, and their hearts rather than their eyes. And live and love by example.