I had a different post in mind for today. It was all set to go in my head, but when I woke up to the news of a mass shooting, an act of terrorism really, in an Orlando nightclub, those words flew out of my head.
I was stunned and saddened at the news… but not shocked. It seems like this is what we do now. When we don’t agree with another, when their lifestyle offends our sensibilities, when they pray to a different god than we do, when we need someone to blame, we stop seeing the other as human and start seeing their deaths as the answer to the problem we’ve created in our own minds.
I say “we” here because this seed is in all of us. We are all capable of dehumanizing another, ignoring atrocity, allowing sweeping generalizations to cloud compassion, understanding, or even good common sense.
When we don’t watch our words, we feed that seed inside of us.
It happens on social media, where pithy hash tags or click bait incites our outrage.
It’s happening in the US presidential election in a huge way, where any sense of civility or dialogue is seen as weakness rather than the sign of rational adulthood.
It happens in how we talk about sports teams, refugees, the people who live on the other side of town, the people who live in “the flyover states,” the people who we don’t quite understand, or when own lack of understanding makes us afraid and our fear makes us angry.
Our words matter. Can you disagree with someone without calling them an idiot? Do you laugh at jokes about “taking out” a political candidate? Have you shared an inflammatory post on Facebook that generates indignation in your heart without first investigating the accuracy of what’s presented? Have you just stopped considering there might be another side to the story?
I have done all of these things. I suspect most of us have at one point or another.
It has to stop.
This blindness to the humanity in others, this inability to disagree without shutting down, this intolerance for difference is killing us, one mass shooting at a time, one drive-by shooting at a time, one campus rape at a time, one drowned refugee at a time.
We can change this, but it’s our own hearts that need changing first.
Watch your words, especially your internal dialogue. Observe your reactions to news stories or social media posts. Challenge yourself to at least consider other viewpoints. You don’t have to adopt those views, but a healthy mind can see an issue from many perspectives.
Watch your words, especially in front of kids. How you talk back to the radio in the car, your conversations about politics at the backyard BBQ where everyone looks and votes the same, your refusal to stand up against small injustices are all being observed by your kids. And your words will teach them more about right and wrong than anything they’ll learn in Sunday School.
Watch your words, especially in community. It’s ironic that with the vast network of the internet, endless media sources and the ability to move freely around our world, we’ve become more isolated than ever. We tend to hang out only with people we agree with, who make us comfortable, who don’t challenge our point of view. We only watch MSNBC or FOX. We stay on our side of town. Community should be about working and living together with a variety of people, becoming stronger as a group because of our diversity, not flocking together with birds of our same feather.
Words matter. Words form the boundaries of our thinking and the size of our hearts. Words inflame and words connect.
Please, let us all choose the words that ennoble and enliven, rather than those that make us feel safe and vindicated. Please, let us rediscover the tough art of dialogue and the fine art of not rushing to an opinion before we’ve thought things through. Please, let us remember that behind the eyes of The Other is another human, flawed, hurting and confused… just like we are.
Photo of an African proverb,
translated into German and English,
graffitied on to a remaining bit of the Berlin Wall,
taken by me in April 2015.