I started writing this post earlier in the past week. And then on Friday, I read the news of the horrific Christchurch terrorist attack. And it just amplified all the thoughts I’d been thinking and all the sadness I’d been feeling that we live in a world where things like these happen.
Scrolling through news websites, forums, and social media in 2019, it's not uncommon to come across very polarized opinions. If these commentators are to believed, then you have to be either or.
Either you support mens' rights too or you're female, soft, or gay.
Either you are pro-life or pro-choice.
Either you join us in lynching and doxxing this person who did something wrong or you must be one of them too.
Either you believe that our type are the chosen ones, the rightful heirs, the “pure”, or you are part of the reason that violence against us exists, because we tolerate “other” people.
Either you accept what happened to you, because "everything happens for a reason" or you don't have faith.
Either you have a firm opinion or you are indecisive and wishy-washy.
I admit, when I come across such extreme opinions it's easy for me to see myself as different from "such people". But then I stop. I catch myself. I realize there are many things I find perfectly acceptable are things others might find appalling. And so this is as much a reminder for me as much as anyone else:
We don’t have to live in a constant state of extremes. We don’t have to be either or.
The word "and" still exists.
Life is a process of change. Humans are not steady-state. We are learning, growing, transforming, changing. And so, we are never only one thing and not another. We live in this great in between. I am both holy and hypocrite. I am both loving and sometimes unkind. I love figuring stuff out, learning, and studying and I love leaving room for mystery.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
For the longest time, I thought I had no right to call out bad behavior because I made mistakes too. Growing up in church, the refrain "noticing the speck in others' eyes and not the log in your own" was frequently used to hush any unpopular criticism. But I am realizing this:
I can be both a flawed, sometimes judgmental human being AND a feminist who believes all human beings have value and should have the same rights and freedoms.
I can hold on to my own spiritual beliefs AND I can speak up for the rights of others to have their own beliefs.
I can disagree with what you say AND I can defend to the death your right to say it (Voltaire).
I can both believe toxic masculinity exists, AND so does toxic, catty, manipulative, and controlling femininity.
I can be grateful for the difficult situations that have shaped me into the person I am today AND I can say that these things shouldn't have happened to me.
And you know what else? Social media can be both "the toilet of the world", as Lady Gaga aptly describes it, AND it can also be all it was been hyped up to be - a place to connect and a place to share information. I know this because there are friends I wouldn't have made and places I wouldn’t have visited and jobs I wouldn't have secured if not for social media.
It can be a place to spread hate AND it can be a place to show the world there are still some of us left who won’t let hate win, who will spread love, and speak up for those who have been hurt.
When the darkness, the fear, and the hate that seems to be “out there” feels overwhelming, let’s all remember that we too, are flawed AND we too, are capable of light, of courage, and love.
NZ Herald published an article with the faces, names, and stories whose lives were lost on March 15. A heart doctor. National athlete. Dentist. College director. Company director. These are just some of the people who lost their lives because they happened to belong to a certain group of people. We live in a world where so often, we forget behind skin, creed, and color lie human lives and individual stories.
It starts with words and thoughts before it becomes actions. Such a mentality of “otherness” is not out there. It’s among us. In every continent, every country. The shooter said he was inspired by Donald Trump, president of the United States, and Norwegian rightwing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 children in a terrorist attack not so many years ago (if you watch Netflix, the documentary about this story is called “July 22”). Back home, in Malaysia, we grew up hearing that you shouldn’t hire or rent houses to certain people purely because of their skin color, because certain types are lazy, certain types are gangsters, and certain types are con-artists.
Many of these beliefs are founded on exaggerated stereotypes. The reality? That person part of the “other” is a doctor who might save my life, someone who might be investing in my company, someone whose kids might become best friends with my kids.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.” -Rumi.
If you have time, I would highly recommend this compelling 4-minute poetry / stop-motion video. (The first 4 minutes are the poem, the last 4 an interview with the poet.) Short summary of the video is below:
A teacher asks his classroom: What’s the opposite of a gun? Answers are ventured. It’s a rose. It’s a pillow. It’s a hug. It’s whispering I love you and touching someone’s ear. It’s giving birth. The answers come, and as more and more varied answers are given, emotions are triggered. “That’s not the opposite of a gun.” “That’s stupid.” Children are split into camps. The flower supporters. The kitten supporters. Those who don’t care. And then the teacher says these haunting words: “What if you all are right?” What if you AND you AND you AND you are right? And then he says:
“The opposite of a gun is all these things. The opposite of a gun is whatever it’s pointed at.”
Whenever hate wins, all of us lose. Whenever we turn a gun or a finger away from someone else, we turn it away from our own selves. Because we are all one and the same.
"I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit." - Khalil Gibran
We are all more connected than we would like to believe. And the very people who need our compassion today are the people who may end up saving us from ourselves.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” - German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller