There are two important aspects to the recent mass shootings in Orlando. By far, the most important aspect is that of lives lost, families destroyed, and an already-vulnerable LGBTQ community reeling from being targeted by such senseless violence. I will address that aspect separately; but, to be honest, I need to reel my emotions in just a bit before I can speak coherently. So for now, I will focus on a different aspect.
In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, with 50 precious lives lost, we touched oh-so-briefly on the victims, and then just as quickly divided into our groups and roles. Did you ever have those arguments with your Mom as a kid, when it felt like deja vu all over again? Like someone just hit replay on a well-worn recording and you had the same argument over and over again? That’s how I feel in the wake of each and every mass shooting.
Those who advocate for gun control are angry about the weapon used and how it was obtained. Those who want tighter immigration laws are angry about the name and ethnicity and travel history of the assailant. Half the country applauds the statements of our President, while the other half ridicules him. The victims, all too often a vulnerable group, feel a fresh sense of isolation, fear and oppression. Meanwhile, the cruelest people on the planet write messages of glee over the death of those who they deem “deserved” it. And in this particular case, perhaps the largest group of all is the silent one — those who have pitted themselves in one way or another against the LGBTQ community, and now have no idea how or if to speak words of compassion. And so, while some of us are grieving, most of us are fighting. Separated, angry and afraid.
I’ve always felt that acts of terror are senseless. But this time around, I’m beginning to understand its power. Terror causes fear and anger. Fear and anger leads to division and finger-pointing. Division and finger-pointing leads to weakness and vulnerability. Weakness and vulnerability exposes us to additional harm. All of it jacks up and energizes those who have been indoctrinated to believe that causing us harm is a divine calling.
Earlier today, I read two different facebook posts, both by thoughtful, intelligent people who I respect.
One post said, “If you think this is about guns, you’re an idiot.”
The other post said, “If you think this is not about guns, you’re crazy.”
Those posts made me sad. Because these two people are both smart and passionate, and each of them is EXACTLY who the other person needs to be listening to. Each of them is EXACTLY who the leaders of our country should be listening to. Nothing in our world — whether science or technology or medicine or religion or art or anything of value — has ever moved forward with a single group of like-minded people. When like-minded people all get together, they stagnate and eventually die out. But when a group or a church or a discipline involves differing opinions and perspectives, that group thrives.
People — WE NEED EACH OTHER. We need differing perspectives and epiphanies and passion. We need disagreement and misunderstanding. We need hard heads banging against each other until the edges are smoothed out into something that makes sense. We need each other’s forgiveness when we err, rather than gloating. We need praise when we do well, rather than a childish refusal to acknowledge any success. Not just forgiveness from those who are like us, but from those who are very different. Not just praise from those who agree with us, but praise from those with whom we usually disagree.
We. Need. Each. Other.
At the risk of dragging us back into the weeds, I want to try to make a point. It seems that in this particular shooting, we finally have the opportunity for a small common ground. We have a shooter born in the United States, of Afghan descent, who travelled to Saudi Arabia on two different occasions for a Muslim religious holiday, and who was for some period of time on the FBI list of people to watch due to statements of identification with extremist groups. This person legally obtained an assault weapon, and used it to kill 50 innocent people.
Some believe that the key to preventing terrorism is to identify the potential terrorists based on a profile of ethnicity, religion and travel patterns. This viewpoint says, “Gun don’t kill people; people kill people.” So you identify potentially dangerous people and get rid of them.
Others believe that the key to preventing terrorism is in getting rid of guns. They theorize that if there are no guns, then there can be no shooters.
Each of these, of course, represents the extreme viewpoint, and most of us fall somewhere along the spectrum of views. But what if, when one of these tragedies occurred, we looked not for the differences but for the areas of common ground? And then, as we capitalize on areas of agreement, perhaps those areas may expand around the edges and give us larger areas of agreement. What if, rather than trying to poke larger holes in each other’s strategies (and thereby making each other weaker) we instead tried to find from another’s perspective something that could actually work?
What if those who are against any type of restriction based on race, ethnicity or religion, were to concede that if a person fit a particular profile of threatening behavior (such as whatever landed this person on an FBI “watch list”) then restrictions on freedom such as travel is at times permissible and reasonable?
What if those against any type of gun control were to concede that if a person fit a certain pattern of concern, whether due to behavior, ethnicity, religion or mental instability, then those persons should be restricted (to a greater degree than they currently are) from owning a gun?
I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me and that’s fine; my point isn’t really even in the specifics and I have no power whatsoever to carry out my views anyway. My point is to say, can we actually LOOK for common ground, recognizing that to utilize the perspective of those who disagree with us makes us stronger rather than weaker? Could we perhaps say to one another, what would 9 parts of my viewpoint plus 1 part of your viewpoint look like?
We are a nation of smart, passionate, compassionate, hard-working, discerning, ethical people. It is time for us to benefit from our diversity rather than using differences to beat each other up.
We are called the UNITED States of America. If terrorists divide us, then they have ripped apart the very fabric of our identity, and they emerge the victor. But if we are truly united, refusing to allow difficult circumstances to tear us apart, then we cannot be defeated.
Will you join me, in praying for and modeling and seeking unity? Will you join me in an intentional effort to build bridges with each other? Will you have the courage to step out of your like-minded groups and listen to another perspective? Will you denounce the weakness and foolishness that ridicules others? Will you give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt? Will you listen more and speak less? Will you affirm more and criticize less?
During these desperate times when we find ourselves at war with a despicable, evil enemy, we need each other. I need you, and you need me.
We are stronger together.