The Orlando shooting happened this past Sunday morning. As was the case of many on social media, my facebook feed was inundated not only with posts of sadness at the world's recent events, but it was full with aggression. The combination of this horrible and tragic event, on top of all that is going on in the political world right now, spewed anger and hatred all over a feed that is generally speckled with posts from artists, spirituality websites, funny cat videos and summer vacations. They simply went away. Or some facebook algorithm pushed them so deep that even my unusually high amount of surfing today didn’t reach them. Understandably so.
The first time in my history with facebook I had to unfriend someone. Someone I hold dear. Someone I would rather keep in contact with. Someone, who like me, has suffered great illness and understands what it means to still be walking on this planet. This was very hard for me, for a number of reasons. Mostly because I care about this person, but also because I value the opinions of people who don’t think like me. I truly do. But this friend became so angry, so full of hatred, their language so hurtful that the conversation was just shut down. It no longer retained the basic characteristics of “an informal exchange of ideas”. There simply was no exchange. One view, full of anger and hatred, limited in fact and gross in overgeneralization - with an unwillingness to hear or respect the views of others. I had blocked this person from showing up in my newsfeed a while back, but today my attention was brought to something this person had said recently. Upon reading the words written, I decided that as difficult as it was, I had to do something. My passive “hoping” that the situation would resolve itself or that I could maintain the relationship by avoiding this person’s behavior was no longer a solution...if it ever was.
Feeling not well enough to really do anything physical today, I spent an unusual amount of time paging through my facebook newsfeed, surfing news articles and listening to online news radio. I purposefully read and listened to as much as I could from both sides of "the story”, trying not to get involved in sensationalism on either end (which is basically impossible, but I gave it my best shot). The Orlando news, intertwined with all the political agendas on both sides, made it intensely difficult. Beyond my ideas of why this happened or how it happened or what the solution is, lies a profound sadness and the heavy feeling of helplessness. Over and over and over again, the question in my head... What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? This sense that the world has gotten so out of control left me feeling like the only thing I truly can change is me. Overwhelmed with the bigger picture, yet longing desperately to do something. What can I do?...
Then, I stumble upon a video shared on facebook of Stephen Colbert’s reaction to the Orlando shooting. These are the words he ended on,
It's easy, it's almost tempting to be paralyzed by such a monstrously hateful act, to despair, and say, 'That's the way the world is now.' Well, I don't know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. ... Love is not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families and the victims and the people of Orlando but let's remember that love is a verb. And to love means to do something.
And again, as I surfed aimlessly, I found myself watching a video of the Dalai Lama at the Youth World Peace Conference. In his opening remarks he offers a few moments of silence for a time of prayer and then says,
Although some are quite skeptical about the effects of prayer, it has to come through action. Serious action, continuously, despite difficulties and a lot of obstacles, we cannot lose our determination, our courage. And on top of that, some prayer is ok, no harm. Without action, it is just prayer.
Love, in action, is compassion. Compassion, by definition, is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering.” What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?
There was a lot hate and anger and finger pointing and blaming and judging on facebook today. So much so that by tonight I felt like I needed to sage the house just to help myself let go of it all. It hung heavy on the humidity that came rolling in with the storms. Heavy and dark. I understand these reactions. Because that is exactly what they are - reactions. And quite often, they come fast and they come heated. But one post, one very well written and brave reaction to an article describing the complicated history of the shooter, dared to show compassion for the shooter. She wrote, “While I utterly, utterly condemn his atrocious actions, I also believe we must extend some compassion to him for his own distress.” Unimaginable? Maybe. Impossible? I don’t believe so. And it really made me think.
After sitting here today, reading all the news articles and surfing through all the posts, I found myself so angry, so full of what feels like hatred to me. A justified hatred. A hatred that comes easy in light of such tragedy. A hatred that comes easy when listening to racism and sexism and rape and murder and lying and all that fills our news. We’ve had enough. And nothing seems sweeter in light of fear, than justified hatred and anger. Yet nothing is further from the solution.
Compassion must have the final word. And compassion does not mean agreeing with everyone. And it surely does not mean letting people get by with things that are harmful. Just as I had to “unfriend” someone very important to me, there are times when difficult things have to be done (to speak on an extremely simplified level) or said. Compassion is not easy. For one thing, it threatens our ego. In order to have compassion you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Let go of what you know. Move toward the pain of the world, beyond bias, beyond prejudice and fixed opinions and open your heart to people - those we like and more importantly, those we don’t like. Compassion counteracts our tendency to stay stuck in our way of thinking and counteracts our resistance to change. Instead of acting or reacting with aggression when we are provoked, endlessly perpetuating the cycle of aggression, we trust that we can interact with others from a place of inquisitiveness, calm and caring, without feeling threatened.
I don’t claim to know the answers to all of life’s difficult questions these days. But this I do know, the answer to even the smallest of these is not hatred. It never will be. And some of the most daring work we can ever do is to challenge our own way of thinking - our fixed ideas, the labels we are so invested in, our conventional ways of experiencing things, our opinions of right and wrong. It’s not until we do this that we can move beyond bias and prejudice and actually care for people, actually make a difference. With all that I feel helpless about, this I can do.
This I can do.