Like so many others, I woke up to the news about the Orlando shooting today. It is heartbreaking, shocking, gut-wrenching, awful. And I am sure in the days to come, after the deadliest mass shooting in American history (and let’s face it, we’re a world leader in mass shootings), there will be so many calls to action. We will shout at each other about gun control, about terrorism, about homosexuality, about politicians. Somebody needs to do something, we will say. What will it take? How many people have to die before someone does something?
Problem is, we can’t agree on what someone should do. Take away all the guns? Give everyone a gun? Give guns to only the good guys and ask them to protect the ‘normal’ people from the bad guys? Send away all the people who don’t look like us? Kill the people who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong? Demand that our society do more to support mental health services? Address homelessness and abuse? Abolish religious extremism? Legislate morality?
Truth is, none of that will do any good. None of our grand plans for saving the world will mean a damn thing, because there’s one thing we refuse to see and refuse to change.
We have to stop de-humanizing the people we disagree with.
But of course we do. That’s obvious. Those people, those other people, they need to stop dehumanizing LGBT people and people of color, people of size, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, people who work in the sex industry, people who want to make choices about how and when and why they reproduce. Of course, it’s obvious. The problem is hatred. If we could only eliminate those other people with the hateful world view. Get rid of them. Change their minds.
Yes, society needs to stop de-humanizing all those groups, I agree. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Look. Everyone killed or injured in the Orlando shooting today… each one of them was a human person. Each one of them had a childhood. Each one of them has family. Each one of them loved and was loved by other people.
But the same is true of the man who shot them. That man is a real human person.
The Stanford rapist is a real human person.
The San Bernadino shooter is a real human person.
The Boston marathon bombers are real human people.
The killer in Charleston is a real human person.
This is not an excuse for the harm they’ve done. This does not forgive, nor cover, nor condone, the reprehensible actions these people have taken. It does not restore the lives they’ve taken or ruined or altered irrevocably. This does not pardon the hurt they’ve caused. This does not absolve them of responsibility. We condemn those actions, and they deserve condemnation. This does not change any of that.
But these people are people. And we must remember that.
We must remember that one killer with religious views does not make a religion of killers.
We must remember that if the rape of a 23-year-old woman is unconscionable, then so is gleefully wishing rape upon a 20-year-old man.
We must remember a sexist culture wounds and oppresses all who live within it – male, female, and everything in between.
We must remember that violence and vengeance are a never-ending cycle; those who live within it may never escape it.
We must remember that it is all too easy to point the finger at other groups of people. All too easy to blame them for our misfortunes and rationalize a hatred and fear that is, at its heart, irrational.
It’s not easy. In our shock and fear and pain, our immediate reaction is to lash out. Call for blood. Point the finger. Shift the blame. Convince ourselves more than even that we are right and those who oppose us are wrong. Convince ourselves that we know the answers. That it could have been prevented, had we only woken up, had we only taken action, if only they’d listened to us and done XYZ.
There is no law we can enact or repeal that will force us to see the humanity in everyone – those who disgust us, those who insult us, those who hurt us, those who are frightening and unknown to us. Those who wound us. Those who shock us. Those who oppress us.
When those people cease to be people to us – when instead they are a monster or a monolith – that is when we most risk losing our own humanity. That is when we begin to follow the same path our shooters, our rapists, our bombers walked down. That is when we heap upon others the fear and hurt and anger that someone else heaped upon us. That is when we perpetuate the hatred that so wounded us. In putting a murderer to death we are all murderers.
I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that until all the world learns to see all the world with compassion, these horrors will continue.