I am trying to write something at least weekly. This week feels like I’m digging out a splinter—push, pull, adjust the light, scrape up, scrape down, ouch. Still, that little niggling thing rests, quietly, just below the surface. It won’t oblige.
The world outside is making introspection more difficult and more important. I’m at turns horrified and impressed by my fellow humans. I think because there is so much happening right now, I’m having a hard time distilling my thoughts down into a cohesive whole. So I’m trying to find the linkages, the human elements, and improve my understanding.
The response to the refugee crisis has been making me heartsick. I know there are so many good people, who want nothing more than to help. I know that there are so many who understand that, except for a few indigenous people, we all came from somewhere else. Some of our families came here just like these families, running for their lives, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, nothing left behind them but shelled-out buildings that they used to call home. Parents watching helplessly as their children grow thinner and colder every day. They need our help, and we should give it freely, because they are part of our human family. There is no reason that the situation couldn’t be reversed, except for an accident of birth.
But the most noise comes from those who would ban all Muslims. There are acts of terrorism, aggression and outright assault happening all over the US, targeting Muslims or those who look like they might be Muslim. Mosques are being firebombed and defaced. People are standing outside houses of worship with guns. Presidential candidates are weighing in on the merits of registering Muslims in some kind of database, and having them be somehow easily identifiable on the streets.
Each week brings new incidents of people of color being gunned down and otherwise abused at the hands of law enforcement. Cries for justice go mostly unheeded—until the video surfaces. Even then, there are those who want the “whole story,” as though there is any story that would justify the killing of an unarmed person. We are divided when we should be joining together, to understand what has gone so terribly, terribly wrong.
I could continue. You don’t need me to, though. You know what’s happening, just as clearly as I do. We have traded away intellectual discourse for talking points and propaganda. And for many, we have traded our sense of humanity for a false sense of security.
Someone commented the other day, and I’ve thought about this a lot since then, that those people who project such hatred and distrust do so to help mentally manage chaos. And I think this is the smartest statement I’ve heard in a long time.
What do people most fear? They may say they fear spiders, or dying, or being alone, but what they really fear is the unknown, and pain. They fear that which they cannot control, and that if something beyond their control or understanding happens, that they might be hurt because of it, or suffer loss. Natural feelings, these.
One of the keys to empathy, according to Brené Brown, is to make oneself vulnerable. You must be open and willing to share of yourself. This is how you find the place where you connect to others. This is how you locate them in your own heart.
Vulnerability is risky. It’s uncomfortable. It requires a level of trust, and trust can be hard to give. Vulnerability open you up to the possibility of being hurt. Without it, though, you aren’t able to access the true places within yourself, and you won’t find the connections you seek. From these connections, empathy and compassion grow and flourish. Without them, there isn’t anything but fear and distrust.
So it’s come to me that this splinter I’m picking at, this little obstinate particle of a thought, is that these people who I am so often furious with aren’t deserving of my anger. They need my compassion. They are mired in their fear. They are trapped by their need to put all the world’s misery into tidy little boxes and label each one. They hope that by corralling their fears and giving them names, this will somehow calm the chaos that is inherent in our lives; that they will know what to avoid, and what to gravitate towards, and this will somehow keep misfortune from howling at the door. They cannot withstand the strain of knowing that they are no match for the vagaries of the universe, and thus they hide under the covers of racism, and privilege, and conspiracy. And for this, they need our compassion. You wouldn’t be angry with one who was afraid of the dark; so then, I can’t continue to be angry with people who are afraid to live in the world as it exists, with all it’s wonder, and beauty, and limitless pain. I will instead sit, quietly, with my hard-won splinter, and think about how I can be kinder to everyone I meet, and especially to those I disagree with. It would seem that they may be most in need of it.
This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to protest injustices that occur. Quite the contrary. But the people who are propping up these petty dictators? They are not going to change their minds by being argued with, or judged. If they were, it would have already happened. But maybe some quiet compassion will encourage them to lean in to the discomfort of the chaos. Maybe they will make the connections that will allow them to poke their heads out from under the covers and see what’s going on.
It can be so beautiful out here.
I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment if you’re so inclined…