Last year, I found myself in this same predicament – staring at headlines on the BBC homepage that were horrific, close to home, and made no sense. Exasperated, I did the one thing I can do – write. In the wake of the Orlando shooting at Pulse Nightclub, I find myself needing to speak again, lest I violate my conscience. Again, I find a need to assume responsibility. Again, I find a people who need to evolve.
So here we go…I will address a couple groups this time. Not because I need to tell them what to do (I’ll reserve that for the group of which I am a part), but perhaps a comforting word may make just one moment a better one than if it were not spoken.
To the victims, their partners, families, and friends
I am sorry. I am sorry that a madman took your lives, your health, your peace of mind, your loved ones. I am sorry that hate like this exists. It is horrifically unfair. It is evil, and I will call it by its name. As you deal with the effects of this tragedy, please know that there are those of us who stand ready to help you, hug you, listen to you. I will not abandon you.
To those I know living in the Orlando community who are helping the victims and their loved ones
Thank you. Thank you for doing what you can to help others heal even when you are processing your own fear and have lost your own peace of mind. You are what makes the world a better place. I am sorry that evil has touched you too. Please let me know if there is any way I can help you.
To my LGBTQ friends and other members of this community
I am sorry. I am sorry that your already fragile sense of security has been shaken. For many years, you have been wounded by hate and misunderstanding. Seeing hate manifest in such a violent way only damages the progress you have made in accepting yourself and opening up to others. Please know that I am here for you and when I am by your side anyone who wants to hurt you will have to go through me.
To my Muslim friends and other members of this community
I am sorry. I am sorry that a madman who happened to be Muslim has done something so horrible. I am sorry that many who do not understand you will blame you, resent you, and hate you. Please know that as I come across rhetoric that assumes you are like the killer, I am confronting it. I am reminding those around me that extremism exits in all groups, and they cannot judge your religion and community on the actions of one or even a few.
To my friends of Middle Eastern decent who do not follow any religion (or perhaps follow other religions) and other members of this community
I am sorry. I am sorry that those around me will judge you and make assumptions about your worldview, beliefs, and personality based only on the sound of your name and the color of your skin. Please know that I speak up for you as well.
To the rest of us
Do you feel helpless in the wake of this? Do you really want to do something right now? You can start by fixing yourself. The Orlando shooter was American. He was one of us. Understand that you and I are only different from him because of the choices we make moment to moment.
Choose to Respect Life – All life. No matter race, sexual orientation, religion, creed, or worldview. All life is a miracle. All life matters. All life is sacred. Respect that and understand that. To quote Alan Moore, “Why do we argue? Life’s so fragile, a successful virus, clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.” You may not be able to help and nurture the life around you, but you can at least let it alone, avoid creating hardship for it, and certainly refrain from exterminating it.
Choose to Master Yourself – Emotions like anger, passion, fear, and desire can be extremely beneficial to both the individual and the world. They can help us survive and thrive, as long as they are not allowed to dominate our personalities and actions. Ask yourself why you feel what you feel. Ask yourself why you act the way you do when you feel emotions. Make decisions knowing that the experience of an emotion is a temporary state. We have all felt anger, hate, disgust, shame, and hopelessness. The difference between those who commit violence and those who don’t is those who don’t choose to master themselves rather than letting emotions and circumstances dictate their actions.
Choose to Take Responsibility – If you are not personally owning the tragedy in Orlando, you are contributing to the problem. A society is only as good as the people living in it. We create society ourselves, so it’s time to stop complaining and blaming society and fix the problem. You see, our society is made up of us, and if our society is violent, it just means we are violent. There is no one to blame here but “the rest of us”, and if there is to be any progress made, we have to take a serious inventory of ourselves. Try doing something to make someone else’s life better, something as simple as holding the door or returning their cart at the grocery. You can continue by saying “please” and “thank you” or “No, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am”. You can go even further by encouraging others to do good things for others. It’s up to us to create a society that respects life and can control itself.
Choose Your Words Wisely – Stick and stones may break your bones, and words may not hurt you, but try to understand that words do create reality. The older you get, the more you think in language, so yeah actually, words can hurt, and they can profoundly effect and even determine your thinking. They can destroy a person’s dream or reputation, and they can start wars. Fortunately, they can also heal a broken person and usher in peace, so please for the love of anything you care about, understand that what you say matters and how people perceive what you say matters. Your intentions don’t amount to anything. Not really. Those only serve to help you sleep at night. Remember when your mom used to say, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” She was right.
Choose to Do The Thing That’s Hard – Sometimes, I want to eat a whole pizza. Sometimes, I’ve had a rough week, I’m really hungry, I’ve worked really hard, and I deserve that whole pizza all to myself. It would taste so good. But I don’t do it. It’s really hard to walk away, but that’s what I choose. Because if I don’t make myself do the thing that’s hard in day-to-day life, how will I ever be able to do the hard thing when it really counts? Like when I’m so furious with someone that I want to hurt them. Choosing to do the hard thing is training for when it really counts.
Choose to Be a Real American – When I was little, I was taught that America was the greatest nation in the world because we didn’t tell others what they could or could not believe. In American, people had the freedom to think how they wanted, worship (or not worship) how they wanted, choose to purse whatever careers they wanted. In American, neither other people nor government were allowed to hold a person back. That’s why people from other countries wanted to come here. Real Americans were supposed to look past the petty differences of race, religion, social status, and lifestyle and see that each person had potential to contribute greatly to the world. So when I see or hear someone or some group being harassed, denied service, or demonized, I’m going to stand up for them because, here in America, that’s not how we do things, Sir.