Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Anger And Heartache

Like so many people, I spent most of Friday evening watching the news reports coming in from Paris. At least 130 dead, and so many more left broken, in body or spirit or both, among the wounded and the loved ones. It is heartbreaking to even think about, and my immediate reaction was to not think about it, to set it aside, to focus on what can be more readily grasped: Hug your loved one, and don’t take anyone for granted. Love the people you love, and try to spare some for the people around you. We need more of that.

Afterward, though, such a tragedy requires thinking about. If we do not think about these things, they get worse. They continue to happen, and pile up on each other until there is nothing else to think about. Or, as is too often the case, we react without thinking and add our own tragedy to the growing list. Action without thought under such circumstances cannot lead to good results, not in the long term at least. We need careful consideration if we are ever going to solve this dilemma.

The first thing I want to do is express my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of these terrible attacks, not just in Paris, but in Beirut and across the entire world where such horrible things continue to happen. After 9/11, a Frenchman was quoted as saying, “Today we are all American.” After the events of Friday evening, now we are all French. We are all human, and it is imperative that we all stand together, once and for all, against any and all who would destroy humanity, through violence and terror in the name of fundamentalism and oppression. We must learn finally that we are all one people, and as one people, we mourn for the loss of any of our own.

Do not discount expressions of goodwill because they are expressed differently than your own. I have seen two different thoughts along these lines: “Don’t pray for me because I don’t believe in prayer,” and “People posting public support are just attention seekers and should stop doing that.”

For the former, whether or not you believe in prayer is irrelevant. The person praying does, and believes it to be of highest consideration. They are telling you they care, and they are doing so in a way that cannot hurt you. Accept in good faith what is offered in good faith. Do not spurn goodwill. In order to make this world better, we must learn to accept all acts of goodwill and weave them together into one immense tapestry that expresses the goodwill of all, and is greater than the sum of its parts.

For the latter, I will not dignify the comedian who first expressed this idea by naming him. Let it suffice that this was part of a comedy routine in which this person was making this claim to explain why it was acceptable for him to insult these people, and then people even less funny started running with it as though it were a serious idea. Let that sink in for a minute. A person who is gaining attention by insulting people is deriding people who he claims are getting attention by offering messages of goodwill. I don’t know about you, but I have no great difficulty discerning on which side of that equation I would rather stand.

People attend funerals as a show of support. People attend rallies as a show of support. People send cards, make telephone calls, wave banners, and do all sorts of other things to show support. It’s what we do. It is what we have always done. Social media gives more means of showing support. There is nothing wrong with using them. Some people who show support in such a way will do nothing else. That is up to them. Others will show support, raise awareness, and then go on to volunteer, donate, act. You, who are on the other end of the support, have no way of knowing which direction the person will go. Again, accept in good faith what is offered in good faith, and just do your best to be a good person. We have enough blatantly wrong with the world that we don’t need to nitpick to find more.

Along with the sadness, though, comes anger, and that anger is justified. When people demonstrate over and over again that they are intent on destroying everything that is good and hopeful in the world, we cannot just remonstrate. We cannot just tell them how unhappy we are because of this. People of this sort will not stop without being stopped. The victim has every right to say, “No more! Today I am no longer a victim. Today I fight back.” Those who are good and kind and peaceful are also angry, and becoming more so.

If violence is the way to stop violent people from destroying the world then violence is necessary. If violence is necessary then it is right. Even the Dalai Lama, famous for his compassion and dedication to nonviolence has stated that, if someone is shooting at you, it is reasonable to shoot back. All those who would have peace can be converted to peace, but we know that not all will have peace. Just as we stand with the victims, we must also stand with those who refuse to be victims, and those who are determined to defend the victims. We “Pray for Paris,” in whatever way seems right to each individual, but we do not stop there. We “Pray for peace,” but we know that peace might lay on the other side of a war-torn valley, and we are ready to do what needs be done to get there.

We cannot coexist with people who wish to destroy us. That is true, but it is also true that it is far too easy to lump in people who have no such desire because we are too lazy, too ignorant, or just too angry to tell the difference. We are better, if we are better, because we make distinctions. If we fail to make distinctions, we are no better than the destroyers. We cannot properly address injustice by creating more injustice, and it is foolish to create enemies where they do not already exist. We have enemies. The destroyers are enemies of all life, and there is, unfortunately, no shortage of them already. Swelling their ranks by driving people to them who were not already with them helps no one. Fight the destroyers, but don’t become one in the process.

It breaks my heart that things like this happen, but also that things like this happen and then so many people climb out of the weeds intent on making them worse. There has never been a situation bad enough that someone didn’t latch on trying to make it worse. On the other hand, there has also never been a situation where people didn’t come forward with all best intentions to make things better. I would like to believe that this second category is more common, that it is more of who we are as a whole. I hope, and because I hope I will keep pushing to make that hope a reality. We can make a better world, though it will not be an easy road. There will be heartache and anger along the way.

Today we are all French, and we stand in solidarity with the victims of this horrible attack. We are not afraid, and we will have our better world. We will have a world where we are not all American or all French, but all human. We believe, and it will be. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

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