Today I’m thinking about how upset we are about the tragedy in Orlando. We should be, we absolutely should be.
But many of us seem preoccupied with this idea of delivering justice – that the gunmen involved in the shooting, as well as every other person who’s gotten lost down a twisted, tangled path and made choices that affected so many people in awful and negative ways, deserve some sort of consequence. A terrible consequence for their terrible actions. Seems fair.
I think this is a completely normal part of the grieving process. In the wake of tragedy and loss, we are hurt. We don’t understand the pain, so we search for someone to blame it on. We need to be able to channel our pain and anger somewhere, and in our devastated state, it makes the most sense to lash out at the people who seemingly most deserve it. (By “seemingly”, I’m not implying that the attackers aren’t free of fault, but that we merely glance at the situation instead of looking deeper, towards a root cause.) It makes sense to demand consequences for this unethical, heartless behavior.
Consequence: That word brings to mind a conversation I had with my best friend just this morning about parenting. We discussed the idea that our actions are our children’s greatest teachers. We can give them consequence after consequence for behavior we don’t approve of. We can tell them to go to their rooms when they’re rude, or take away privileges when they cross boundaries. But in the end, it isn’t the consequences that teach them. It doesn’t provide an explanation for why what they’re doing is wrong. It may instill fear or rebellion (or perhaps a mix of both), but it won’t explain. It merely controls. It keeps an external situation from manifesting (if you’re lucky), but it won’t mesh with their deeper intellect.
Let’s switch the perspective some more. Do you remember a time when you were a kid and received consequences for a bad choice? I do. There were only ever two things that happened afterwards: Either I did it again or I didn’t.
If I did it again, it was because the next time the opportunity showed up, I felt like this time “it was different”. I felt justified in my behavior because this time “wasn’t like the other time”; I had different reasons, different motives and incentives, different expectations. It was on a case-by-case basis that I evaluated my actions, and usually I determined that each circumstance was its own world of reasoning. Sure, something bad happened the last time I did this, but this time – unlike the last time – I’m doing it because of x, y, and z. The consequences shouldn’t apply here, right? Right! thought little me.
If I never did it again, it was because I was scared. Yes, I stopped to consider the consequences. But the consideration inspired fear. Not awareness, not emotional intelligence, not an application of my inner moral compass to guide me to a rational decision coming from a place of respect. It was simply fear of experiencing punishment + my desire to avoid whatever bad thing I had coming.
Actually, I lied. There was a third thing that sometimes happened. I call it the “fuck ’em all” effect.
Sometimes, when I’d had enough, I questioned the rationality of these consequences. I wondered why, if I thought I was truly in the right, I had to be punished. All that was shown to me was that there were certain things I “shouldn’t” do, and that if I was brash enough to try them, bad things would happen. And I thought to myself, So let the bad things happen. I know that what I’m doing is right.
And maybe whatever it was I wanted to do wasn’t right. Maybe I was harming myself or others. Maybe I was limited to my narrow, self-absorbed perspective and was driven by something beyond rationality. I was either never taught why I shouldn’t do this thing, or the lesson hadn’t yet been absorbed into my understanding. But none of that mattered.
What mattered is that I believed I was right. And that belief trumped all consequences, because those did nothing to explain to me why I shouldn’t behave the way I wanted to behave. Fear be damned, I would have my free will! *insert fist slam on table here*
So sure, we could focus on consequences. On justice. On vengeance. On ego. On control.
But will it relieve our pain? Has it yet inspired hell-bent murderers and broken-souled perpetrators to reflect and reconsider? Will it in the future? Is “scaring into submission” the tactic we want to handle conflict with? And most importantly, are we creating a long-term solution?
Let’s sit with our pain. Let’s be compassionate with ourselves so that we may learn to be compassionate with others. Compassion doesn’t mean we excuse away bad choices. It just means we soak in this very important concept: Everyone is in pain. But not everyone has been given (or has found) the tools to deal with that pain in healthy ways.
Sometimes it gets out of hand. Sometimes lives are lost, tears are wept, and hearts are shattered into a million agonizing pieces. But reacting in hate won’t put the pieces back together, and it won’t make these horrific acts stop.
I can’t say for certain what will make them stop. I’m not in a position to determine that. All I know is that I believe in the power of love, and in the strength of the human spirit to be bigger and better than simply perpetuating fear. I believe in our abilities as individuals to practice consciousness and acceptance, and to spread it to our circles of community. I believe in our abilities as a community to overcome a fear-based reality and build (or rather uncover) a new one. We are alchemists. We can transmute lead into gold. But we have to practice daily.
/end reflective post
There are my seeds, and I have planted them.