I’ve really had enough. I’m sick to death of the polarization in this country, but let me tell you something you really need to know: We’re not polarized between the right and the left, Democrats and Republicans, conservative and liberals. Not even black and white. The polarization is right here: It’s between us, and them, whoever “we” are and whoever we think “they” are.
Once we’re divided like that, all it takes is a little fearmongering to turn us all into lunatics.
And boy have we done that. Why just yesterday some lunatic went to an abortion clinic in Colorado and started shooting. In the wake of that, one segment of “us” is sticking their collective fingers in their ears and singing “la la la la la” while “they” (the other us) are pointing out that one does not simply decide to start shooting someplace and randomly pick an abortion clinic, particularly one that has been a target of the first us for some time.
But here’s the real deal: It doesn’t matter why one lunatic went to an abortion clinic and started shooting. It’s enough that we have created a society in which anyone at anytime could decide that the answer is to take a gun and go kill some people. And don’t try to deny it. The entire, collective “we” have done exactly that.
None of us get off the hook here. Not this “us” and not the other “us.” I say this because I know with absolute certainty that there are many, many, many people out there who understand that our society is very ill indeed when even one person does something like this, no matter the reason.
And I’m not saying it to blame anyone. I’m saying it because it is our responsibility to shift the nature of our society. And hell, I know a lot of us feel powerless. I do, about it half the time. But the other half … that’s when I remember that we, all of us, have plenty of power and all we have to do is use it.
How? Ain’t that the question? Well, here’s how I do it. I start with understanding that we’re all the same. Even the people we don’t like, or the people we’re afraid of. We’re all doing what we think is best. Every. Single. One of us. Even if “I” think what “you’re” doing is crazy, wrong, or bad. This is maybe the hardest part – to refrain from judgement.
Let’s look at Paris for a minute. Some folks thought that the best way to get what they want was to blow themselves and other people up and to shoot a bunch of people. Don’t go any further than that with it – it does not matter who these people were or what it was they wanted.
You may think they were crazy, wrong or even evil. But that doesn’t matter either – that’s just what you think about it. The only true thing about it is that these people believed that their best option to get what they wanted was to kill people. Sit with it for a minute. What happens?
Here’s what happens to me: I start to feel really sad, both for the people who are directly hurt by the killing and attempts to kill and for those people who actually believed they were doing the “right” thing. It breaks my heart, breaks it wide open.
It easy to understand why I’d feel sad for those directly hurt … but why do I feel so sad for the ones who did the hurting? Honestly, that’s not so hard to understand either. Just think, how much pain must they be feeling to believe the only way to ease it is to hurt other people? Sit with that for a minute.
It might make you uncomfortable to sit with it. We don’t want to feel compassion for someone who perpetuates what we think is a heinous crime. But again, that’s what we think. Those folks, that’s not what they thought.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we condone what happened in Paris. It doesn’t mean that we like it. It doesn’t even mean that it wasn’t a heinous crime. It just means that we take a step back, and, rather than race off fed by anger and fear, we look at the reality, calmly and rationally, before we make decisions.
This is how I try to live my life. It’s fucking hard. And it’s not just when there’s a Paris or a Colorado Springs or a Damascus or whatever that I use this method. I use it, or at a least I try to use it, in every single interaction I have, whether it’s face to face, over the Internet or telephone, or long distance with someone I’m unlikely to ever have a direct meeting with.
Because this is how we turn from a society that promotes violence and death as an answer to one that values all lives. Try it. Think of someone you love, how you want the best for them. Easy, right? Now think of someone you have no particular feelings for. In your mind, tell them you want the best for them. Not as easy, but you can do it, right?
Now think of someone you really have a hard time with, someone who rubs you the wrong way, someone you think is just a rotten person. Remember that he or she is a person, though, a human being just like you, someone who is doing the best they know how even if you think they could do better. Let them know you want the best for them too.
If you’re anything like me, that’s hard as hell. But it’s doable. And every time I do it, it breaks my heart wide open again. And the really funny thing is that when my heart breaks open like that, I can feel the love and care extending right out to whoever I’m thinking of.
None of that, of course, makes the ugliness go away. It does chip away at the ugliness we carry within us though, and believe it or not, it chips away at the ugliness other people carry as well. I’ve seen it happen.
We can’t end the violence and hatred all at once. But we can do it little by little. It starts in our own hearts. Please, open yours now.