On Sunday, a terrible thing happened in Orlando. I’m sure you’ve read about it or heard about it. A lot of people lost their lives or were badly hurt, apparently for no reason other than some empty, angry man hated them for who they loved. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
I have been trying to decide whether or not to write anything here about it. I’ve tended to stay away from these things because there are so many really important issues involved, and I’m far from an expert on any of them, and in general the last thing whatever Conversation needs is the viewpoint of another straight white dude. I understand (I think) that a lot of times it’s better for someone like me to listen rather than speak and hear what wiser people and people closer to it are saying and take that stuff on board and learn how to help. So that’s part of why I thought maybe I wouldn’t write about Orlando, but then I think that when something this horrific happens, staying silent can’t be right. So I kind of want to write something.
Another part of why I’ve hesitated is that after all the horrific events that have happened over the past months and years, the only reaction I have left will sound terribly facile. But I think it’s true, so I’m going to write it down anyway, even in the awareness that others have already said far more eloquent things about this than I will, and that sending this out on the internet from my wee blog is sort of screaming into the void, or (more accurately), a whisper in the tumult.
But I still think it’s true, so I’m going to write it down.
Whenever these awful things happen, whatever the specific motive of each perpetrator turn out to be, it all comes down to hate in the end. As a species, we’re awfully good at finding and inventing reasons to hate one another and then kill each other over that hate. It’s not a thing particular to this time or place. Humans have been doing it for a very long time. And we’ve got to find a way to stop.
There’s no reason for it. There’s no reason in the world to hate each other over the colour of skin or who other people love or what spiritual beliefs they may or may not have. It just shouldn’t matter. We’re all people and just trying to do our best in the world. With all the real problems we have as a society and a civilization and a species, we need each other and we need to work together, not tear each other apart. Whether you look at it pragmatically or ethically or empathetically, we just have to stop hating each other.
People are just people. I think if I’ve decided one thing after studying history for as long as I have, that would be it. No matter where or when we’re talking, no matter who we’re talking about, people are just people, who want a place where they feel like they fit and they feel safe, they want someone to care about them and they want, by and large, to get by; to have someplace to live and food to eat and some reasonable prospect that their life is going to be OK. I want that. You probably want that. That’s basically what every person is looking for and just as I’d like all those things, they deserve every one of those things, because we’re all just people.
We’ve built a whole bunch of bullshit in our society that has made that a lot more complicated and separated people from each other and pushed some people down while lifting other people up. It all more or less came from fear and hate and we gotta stop. We’ve got to take it all apart and just let people be people. We don’t need to be divided against each other. It’s heartbreaking that we are. It’s sad and it’s wrong and it comes from hate and that’s where it has to stop. We have to stop hating each other.
The thing is that we have to be taught to do it, too. No-one comes into the world hating someone else. We have to learn it. So we have to, urgently, stop teaching each other to hate somebody else, too. We have to stop pointing at whatever group of people and saying ‘those people are bad’, ‘those people are out to get us’, ‘those people are no good’, ‘my life is bad because of them’. It’s bullshit, it’s a stupid argument we use to make ourselves feel better and we have to recognize that and reject it. People are just people. Individually some are good and some are bad but as groups? Just people.
We just have to stop hating each other.
I’m not saying we can’t ever be angry. Sometimes we have to be angry if change is going to happen and I’m sure not going to tell someone who is being denied their rights and denied their status as a person not to be pissed off about it. You should be. You should demand better. We should help. And the man who gunned down innocent people in a nightclub, I’m not saying you have to forgive him. I wrote a couple weeks ago about things that are unforgivable and irredeemable in fictional characters, and killing unarmed, innocent people who were never any kind of threat to anyone is certainly on that list. Hate that guy if you need to. But other people who look like him or have a name like his are not the same. Don’t hate a group because of something an individual did. They’re just people.
I think I’ve written before that whenever we let an event like this turn us against each other and make us afraid and make us hate, the people who do these kinds of things win. It’s what they want. They want us at each others’ throats and throwing away everything good in our society looking for security or revenge. We can’t let it happen.
The way we win is to be amazing to each other. Despite the people telling us we should hate one another, we need to look out for each other and take care of one another and generally treat the other person like we wish they would treat us. Fundamentally that’s how we get to where we want to be and need to be; just treat each other right. There’s still a lot of bullshit in the way that makes this more complicated than it should be, and those are important issues that we need to be engaged with and do what we can about, but on the other hand, on an individual level – we can absolutely treat each other right, right now. That doesn’t fix everything, but maybe it’s the foundation of fixing things.
I don’t pretend this is a magic trick that I have discovered, lots of other people have said it, but I felt like I needed to write something (heck, I basically always feel like I should write something) and I think it’s true. There’s a lot more to be said and I’m going to go back to listening because I honestly think that’s the best thing I can do. That, and I’m going to try as hard as I can to follow my own advice. I know some days it’s easier than others when someone cuts in line ahead of you or gets in your face for not getting their order right or whatever else. The thing is to try to do better.
There is one other important thing that needs to be done, and I haven’t been as good at it as I should have been, but I’m gonna recommit to it now. We need to call out hate when we see it and say that we see it and it isn’t acceptable and it isn’t ok. I’m in a pretty privileged spot in society where it’s safe for me to do things like that and I need to remember that and not let those opportunities to push back against hate slip by.
I’m gonna try.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope it made a kind of sense. Please be amazing to each other today.