An Apathetic Thought

It was hardly twelve hours after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church occurred when I jumped online after having my first cup of coffee on Thursday morning. I saw the posted articles and statuses of folks on my news feed concerning the shooting and had a rather guilty thought.

See, the last thing I do most every night before I go to sleep is I tap on the email icon on my phone and have a final glance at any emails that have been sent my way. Usually, they end up being something that I do not read and I delete them, which is exactly what I did that night.

However, I recalled that one of the emails was a breaking news update from the New York Times and that the little preview stated that there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

I am going to share something with you that I think is strikingly grim and also not altogether uncommon…

My first thought was “oh great, another shooting…” Then I hoped that those I know living in the area were okay. Then I picked up the book I am currently reading, read some, and went to sleep. Then the morning comes…

Within seconds of checking my news feed, I was updated on the carnage that took place in that church in Charleston. A man (and I use the term loosely) gunned down a group of people gathered in worship and fled. The suspected shooter was later identified and found to be white, and the victims were identified and found to be black.

Within hours, really probably minutes, after the shooting, people began arguing with one another over various aspects of the incident they identified as most important such as the following:

The shooter was motivated by racial hate.
The shooter was motivated by hate of Christians and the Christian faith.
The shooter is crazy or mentally ill.

Hyperbolic rhetoric ensued on all sides. Exclamation points and capital letters sprouted all around, and people went about doing what they do best; they set up camp by drawing all of those with concurrent frames of mind to their side and made themselves distinct from the opposing side.

I don’t really want to get into the arguments of any side at this point other than to share my two cents put forth in the great social network debate:

There is one thing, and one thing alone, in my humble opinion, that we can glean from the news reports on this kid, Dylann Roof. He’s not crazy. He knows right from wrong. He ran in the hopes of not getting caught. His mental state should not be the focus of the discussion, but rather his motivations.

That was yesterday morning, and as far as I know, the shooter has not come forward and made public his motivations since he was apprehended.

What I want to focus on is my first thought upon learning that there was a shooting in Charleston…

“Oh great, another shooting…”

That was my first thought. THAT was my FIRST thought, followed by the side thought of hoping that those I know living there were okay and unharmed, followed by rolling over and going to sleep.

As I have gotten older and a little more mature (I stress “a little”), I have come more and more to abhor violence. I guess you could say that I am a pacifist, though I am not sure I would label myself as such. Yet even with my abhorrence of violent acts, I was able to rest comfortably and peacefully knowing that there was a shooting in another part of the world.

Why is that?

I am not a psychopath or sociopath. I feel empathy and sympathy. I even work to feel those “pathies” toward others with whom I do not readily identify or associate or know. Regardless of that work, I still find that apathy somehow finds a way into my heart and way of thinking.

One answer to the above question is that violence in some form or another is occurring anywhere at any time or at all times. If I allowed all of these acts of violence to keep me up at night I would never know sleep, or if I allowed these acts to constantly lay on my heart, I would never know peace. So in order to sleep or to find peace, I put those acts out of my mind.

I’d like to think that that is the answer I am looking for, but I cannot help but consider that there is another answer that is more appropriate, like this one:

Violence is occurring all the time in various places. It is part of the human experience, always has been, always will be, so why lose sleep over it?

That is probably a more apt response concerning my state of mind two nights ago, and I am pretty ashamed of it.

Even with the personal shame I feel, that is an all to common response, and it is accepted in society today. Think about it. An individual, such as myself, can willingly choose to feel apathy toward violence or an individual violent act and it is seen as acceptable and justified by another person or a group of people, and I am ashamed of that, too.

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A Thought on Love, Empathy, and Faith

This started out as a post on Facebook, but I’m going to try to expand on it and see what happens…

If we spent more time seeing people as people rather than as the labels we put on them, then a path to real empathy and understanding shows itself. The problem with labels is that we all wear more than one. Yet, when we see a label on someone that we do not agree with, that is the label we give them. Never mind the other labels one might wear that we would approve of or wear ourselves. It is the label that promotes some kind of disagreement or conflict that we freely choose to accept as the one that most aptly describes or define the individual.

Surely we are smarter and more compassionate than that. Surely we all have the ability to see people for who they are rather that what they are. Why would we willingly take such an ability and simplify it? Does it make life easier? Does it help us sleep better at night? Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to address the last question first and see if they will help answer the other three.

Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to place a label on myself just to show how I view the answer I have for this question. I identify as a Christian, and the answer that follows is according to my understanding of Christian faith.

By simplifying an individual that we may not agree with to the label with which we disagree, faith eludes us. We are not told to love the neighbor with whom we most identify. We are told to love our neighbor. It does not matter who that neighbor is. It does not matter what that neighbor does. It does not matter what we think of that neighbor.

One of the most important aspects of love is empathy. In order to love someone, empathy, and the practice of empathy, within the relationship is absolutely paramount. With empathy, one must understand or want to understand the object of their love. With empathy, there may not always be agreement, but there is always an attempt to understand. Without empathy, one cannot find the commonalities one might have with another in order to build a meaningful relationship. Without empathy, it is easier to cast judgment on those with whom we disagree, paste a label on them, and toss their basic humanity aside. Without empathy, we fail to see the person behind the label. We fail to see the person’s wants. We fail to see their needs. We fail to understand them as people, and choose to see them as enemies, if even in the loosest sense of the word. Without empathy, there cannot be trust. Without trust, there cannot be love.

Empathy takes a lot of practice. It can be difficult, but isn’t that the point? Are we not supposed to practice our respective faiths? Are we not supposed to work in order to build a stronger character and make our faiths stronger?

We have an ability to understand. We have an ability to empathize. Some say it is God given. Some say it is an evolution of the mind. Some say it is a combination of the two.

We can also practice apathy. We can choose not to care. We can choose not to understand. In essence, we can choose not to love. Apathy takes no practice, builds no character, and is a weak foundation upon which to build faith.

Which brings us closer to our faith? Which makes life easier? Which helps us sleep better at night? For me, a better understanding makes me more comfortable and helps me trust that I will be okay. That trust helps me sleep at night. That understanding makes my life just a little bit easier.

There is a debate, has been for a long time. Does faith alone provide for salvation, or are good works necessary? Faith, in and of itself, requires work. Faith requires practice, because we, in and of ourselves, will never be perfect. Through practice, we can come closer to perfection, but cannot attain it but through the continued practice of love and of faith.

We’re Doing It Wrong.

I just finished reading this article talking about the creation of bullet-proof blankets for children at school.  I applaud the creator for thinking of, and making, something that can provide even a modicum of safety and security for our young people, but it deeply saddens me that such an idea was even contemplated in the first place.

It saddens me that our society is so drenched in violence that people are completely desensitized to it.  It saddens me that we have allowed it to happen.  We condone it every day, either actively or passively.  We glorify it rather than reflect and learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again.  We memorialize violent acts through memorializing the victims rather than doing anything to ensure, or even partially prevent, such acts from ever occurring again.  And it keeps happening more and more and more.

Apparently, such thinking is considered naïve and unrealistic.  I mean, how does anyone think that all violence can be stopped?  It’s impossible.  Violence is going to occur.  It is going to happen, so why try to stop it?  Kind of reminds me of a phrase I heard after two boys got into a fight, “oh well, boys will be boys.” This coming from the father of one of the boys.  This.  This is part of the problem, but only part, but it does get us closer to the source, but that comes later.

Through our actions and words we advocate violence as a method of solving problems, or better yet, eliminating them.  We do not deal with it.  We beat it into submission until it goes away or erase issues from our consciouses altogether.

Think about this.  No war has ever ended because the ones doing the fighting ran out of bullets or bombs.  Wars are ended at tables or desks, and with pen, paper and discussion.

Violence tends to come about because someone wants something they feel they cannot get through other means, or, maybe, the perpetrators of violence believe it to be the most effective, or easiest, means with which to obtain what it is they desire.

Example:

My brother and I are two years apart in age.  I am the older.  He, the younger.  We fought all the time, and it was usually because one of us had something, or was doing something, the other wanted or wanted to do.  When the one doing would not give, shouting typically ensued.  Then when the yelling did nothing, pushing, shoving, grabbing, arm twisting, and punching started.  Sometimes it was effective. Most of the time, however, not so much.  What usually happened was that the parents would intervene and we were both denied, so we both lost. Violence accomplished nothing.

We are better than the violence we see or read about everyday.  We are put together with minds that understand compassion, that have empathy.  We have minds that are capable of understanding and working through issues in a nonviolent manner.  Such is much more challenging than escalating to violence. Challenges that require constant work do not bode well for a society that craves instant gratification.  We are willing to work ourselves to the bone in order to obtain what we want or need materially.  Adults get in fist fights while Christmas shopping, think about that, too.  Yet, when it comes to being better humans or being more humane, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Do you think we have a problem yet?

We are better than the violence that people protect themselves from everyday.  Some carry a firearm with them everywhere they go.  What does that say about a society when, number one, one feels that in order to feel safe going to the grocery store they have to be packing a pistol, or number two, that such would even be condoned?  What does it say about a society in which an individual develops bullet-proof blankets in the hopes that they will save children’s lives at school?  What does it say about a society that even considers arming teachers or other school faculty and staff to provide security at a school?  What does it say about a society that attempts to solve problems by throwing possible solutions at the symptoms of the issue rather than the source? It’s kind of like trying to cure strep throat by placing a cool cloth on a fevered forehead.

What is the source?  Where does the violence come from?  Does it come from within?  Or from without?

I have my ideas, most of which lie within society itself, but I am sure it is not that simple.  Most of the ideas that I have are simply symptoms, but maybe not.  As I said before, we glorify violence.  We watch it on television.  Often times some pay extra to watch human beings beat one another senseless for money.  People promote this.  People participate in it, and people pay to watch it.  Name another species of animal on the planet that does this.  Sure, there is violence within other parts of the animal kingdom.  There are challenges for dominion and killing done for the purposes of survival.  We, on the other hand, have forward thinking, intellect, and reason. We can see, process, and understand the consequences of our actions.  Such sets us apart from what we see on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel.  I mean, if they show documentaries anymore besides Shark Week.

The violence that I am thinking about is not only gun violence.  We are surrounded by violence of all kinds.  People are killed by violent people with guns, knives, or bare hands to name a few tools.  Some tools make it easier to kill than other ones.  Some tools were made specifically for the purpose of unleashing death.  Some tools are misused and become harbingers of death.  This is a hotly contested debate that only attempts to control a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.

People kill or beat out of perceived necessity, desire, or fear.  People commit violence due to a lack of understanding and/or compassion for those that live lives in a different way.  People kill or harm in order to defend the ones they love and what is theirs. People kill out of anger.  People kill or commit violence because of a lack of empathy toward fellow human beings.

Earlier, I wrote of what saddens me about all of this, but here is what saddens me the most…

Some, many maybe, will read this post and scoff. They will consider it naïve, immature, idealistic, and unrealistic. The response will be that violence cannot be ended. There has always been violence.  There will always be violence. There are violent people in the world. There is nothing that can be done about that.

We will quit before we even get started. It will end before it begins. The idea will fail before even having the opportunity to succeed.

There is a quote from one of Noam Chomsky’s most recent books,  Hopes and Prospects, I particularly enjoy, and I think it bears stating here:

“Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.”

Essentially, what we do not remember or learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. As our society continues to disconnect from one another, the human connections we are possible of establishing and maintaining will continue to wither.  Rather than being seen as people, we will see each other as small square profile pictures with little thought or regard toward the person within the photo; lacking the compassion or understanding to even attempt to see their struggles or feelings or their hopes and dreams.

What makes us human and separates us from the rest of the world is that we have this conscious choice. We can choose to be empathetic, compassionate, and understanding people; or we can choose to ignore this gift we have. Some say it is God given. Some say it is simply an evolution of animal psychology. That does not matter here. Whether it is given to us by God or by Nature, it is being thrown away with little regard for the consequences that we can more than easily see every single time another human being is murdered or beaten or raped by another human being.

We are supposed to be a civil species at either the pinnacle of evolution or made distinctly in God’s image. You choose your belief. I personally believe that we are failing on both counts, and the continued violence and glorification and justification, either active or passive, of it is a perfect and sad illustration of that failure.