Keeping Our Humanity in Tragedy

Keeping Our Humanity in Tragedy

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

~ bell hooks

It’s been a couple of days since the two mass shootings that occurred within hours of each other in the United States. I, like most, grieved for the lives lost and their families, but I also grieved for the shooters, their families, and the conditions that led them so far away from their humanity. We can talk about gun control, the role of the NRA, and boosting support for mental health. All of which are essential conversations to have. But there are deeper levels at play, and that is how we continue to play the politics of divisiveness. And deeper still, how this leads to the loss of human connection – connection to ourselves, and to each other. When will we understand that this divisiveness continues to feed a harmful narrative that has far-reaching effects?

Whenever these tragedies occur, some want to understand the motivation for the attack so it can be politicized rather than to take any real steps toward addressing the cause. I have been watching most of the democratic nominees blame Trump for the rise in white nationalism. There is truth in these accusations, but it is only addressing one of the symptoms and not the root. The narrative perpetuated on both sides is one of ‘us vs. them’. When we witness this mean spirited divisiveness at the highest levels of our democracy it breeds at best, nihilism and at worst, extremism.

Deeyah Khan has a great series of documentaries that look at the root causes of extremist behaviors, whether it is white supremacy or Islamic extremism. In her research, she sees commonalities regardless of their particular ideology. It begins with disenfranchised people who don’t feel heard, who lack meaning and feel insignificant. Then someone comes along and preys on these vulnerabilities and provides the strength, meaning, and brotherhood that they didn’t receive in their broader communities. It is easy to see the role the president has played in this regard. But, that doesn’t mean that his dissenters have not also played a role.

The narrative of the ‘other’ starts when we pigeonhole people into boxes. We then draw clear distinctions and this often requires that we see people as one dimensional. Letting one issue or position define a person. So instead of listening and receiving ideas from people who hold different views from our own, we judge, call them names and blame them. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. Just because a person’s motivation for killing someone is in alignment with your opposed political leaning does not mean you win the righteousness debate. It means we all lose. If we don’t get that and continue to politicize the atrocities, we will continue to feed the story that breeds these events and ideological uprisings. 

Some feel the need to continually expose the president for who he is, because if we don’t hi-light his moral/ethical, and political deficits than he is somehow getting away with things. I feel we shouldn’t waste all of our energy trying to point out everything he does that is offensive. The president came into office with his faults on full display, instead, we should keep moving forward and focus on the vision of the world we want to live in. Yes, Trump creates a combative climate, but every time we blame him, his rhetoric, or his followers we continue to match his combativeness. When our only focus is on exposing the ‘other’, we are kept in the muck with those we oppose.

I often think about our end game in this battle of left and right. Do we really want everyone to join our team, to see the world precisely as we see it? Would we be more abundant or better off if there were no differing opinions or worldviews? Even that choice is a fallacy because most of us are a multitude of dualities. We are a rich tapestry of experience, ideals, and seeming contradictions. For example, I am pro-choice up to about 18 weeks, then I’m pretty adamantly pro-life. And even in that, there would be room for exceptions. So what box do I fit in, which label should I assume? Does that label make you more comfortable or justified?

Marianne Williamson was right when she said we need to use love to counteract our current climate. Acting with love, compassion, and focusing on creating the world we want to see and the policies that will get us there, is a better path. It’s definitely a healthier one. I’ve thought about what that would mean – to lead with love. For me, it would mean looking for the humanity in everyone, finding our common threads and respecting and honoring our differences. It would mean working on my judgment and resisting the temptation to put someone in a box and allow for contradictions or mistakes. It would be mean putting my energy into creating the world I want rather than spending too much time on tearing something down. And, it would mean holding myself accountable for when I fail to live up to my vision for the world.

One of my favorite meditations is an ancient Hawaiian reconciliatory practice called Ho’oponopono. In this meditative prayer, I repeat the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank-you, I love you.” This teaching assumes there is an underlying spiritual truth that we are all connected. So nothing exists apart from anything else. Even though I’m currently in Japan, I said this prayer after the latest shootings because I believe that while I was not directly involved, I am part of the whole. This belief prompts me to accept accountability for any time I may have promoted violence, judged or treated someone as less than myself. I know this may be a stretch for many of you reading this, and that is fine. In fact, it is perfect. It provides an opportunity to do what was mentioned above and to listen and receive ideas that are different from yours. Can you find a common thread between you and me? Maybe it is merely the desire to create a better world.

Most challenges humanity faces are complex, and there are solutions on many levels. The violence we see can be partly addressed through common sense gun control and offering better mental health support. And we also need to look at things with a broader lens too. It’s not an either/or approach, there are both/and solutions. I like Marianne’s view of politics and society because she’s asking us to look at our dark underbelly with honesty and an understanding we have all played a role in where we are. I believe this level of responsibility and accountability is how we elevate the conversation around the violence in the country and how we begin to heal our nation.


To read more on this topic, read The Story of Them