As with most of the world, Paris has been on my mind. Not merely because of the tragic and senseless loss of life and, along with it, our collective loss of naïvety and innocence (once again). But, mostly because of our indefatigable ability to dichotomise one another.
Us versus them. Black versus white. West versus East. Developed versus undeveloped. Peace versus war. Trust versus suspicion. Right versus wrong. Christian versus Muslim. Ad nauseum.
What happened in Paris obviously horrified me, just as it did everyone else. But, what I found particularly difficult to process was not the events themselves, but our collective inability to find any sort of empathy or understanding of how our words affect one another. The way in which we talked about terrorism and those who seek to terrorise left me nauseous. The words we chose and to whom we directed them horrified me more in some ways.
I watched as individuals I trusted and respected very quickly spewed the worst sort of hate speech and condemned entire groups of individuals, casting the term ‘them’ cavalierly, thus rendering specific groups entirely unworthy of trust or dignity. Unworthy of a chance. Or unworthy of a better life.
I watched and read how we should divide ourselves further, even if we fundamentally agree with one another. ‘Let’s put larger, stronger fences whilst bombing others into the last millennium.’ Facts and statistics didn’t matter much. Only that there was an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, and these were completely categorical with no shades of grey nor replete with ambiguity.
Many posts and rants left me thinking, ‘the terrorists have won’. This is somehow more troubling than the events themselves. And, it’s this that has left me sleepless on more than one night.
I don’t have any answers regarding how we collectively address terrorism or prevent / foil another 9/11 or Paris or Beirut or how to make those ideological differences less divisive. But, I do know that hating someone simply because they are different from me isn’t going to help me feel safer. It’s certainly not going to do much to make my world safer. Partitioning my world to include only those who are right whilst excluding those who are wrong merely begs the question: who defines who’s right and who’s wrong? If our impulse is to cast doubt on those different to us, or assume that all members of group X are to blame for the actions of a few or are all somehow inferior to group [insert demographic here], we are doomed.
There will be no solutions and there will be no safety nor security. And, there will be many, many more Parises in the years to come. Hating is easy; acceptance and understanding are hard, but necessary.
This past summer, at the conclusion of a five-show run of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, drummer Mickey Hart implored us all to ‘please, be kind‘. Challenge accepted, Mickey. Those words have played over and over and over in my mind since July, and ever more increasingly in the wake of Paris.
‘Kill them with kindness’ shall remain my mantra and modus operandi, although I certainly hope no one dies. It costs nothing and may prove invaluable. Rather than engage in hatred or vehement disagreement, I shall choose respect and quiet contemplation. It may not make much difference. But, it beats the alternative. And, in my mind and heart, love will always conquer hatred.
*NB: This post was inspired by a discussion with a close friend who lives far-too-far away. Thanks, Karen! x