The pursuits of a normal day are, for the most part, likely to be mundane and trivial, but put together they are what defines our lives. It is the little things that make the difference. Everyday interactions can be tedious or stimulating, humorous or upsetting, frustrating or heartwarming. They can be meaningful, thought-provoking, and occasionally life altering. Our everyday occurrences are worthy of sharing and celebrating. But it has been difficult to find worth in everyday pursuits when juxtaposed against the recent shootings in Orlando … let’s be clear, the massacre in Orlando. The enormity of the 15th mass shooting in the U.S. in the past 8 years, and some of the frightening responses to it, overwhelm the sensibilities. It feels disrespectful to the most recent victims – this time forty-nine LGBTQ young people – to shift back to the familiar rhythm of everyday life. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to put this horror aside, that would imply acceptance.
This shooting is a human tragedy on so many levels. It’s a tragedy for the 49 dead victims who were out enjoying themselves in what they considered a safe haven. It’s a tragedy on several levels for the family and friends they have left behind. It is a tragedy for those who were by some miracle spared, who are left feeling guilty to be alive while their friends were mowed down. It is yet another tragedy for the great country called the United States of America, which used to be able to view itself as a beacon of light for the world, where they just didn’t create economic successful, but welcomed people to come from all over to enjoy freedom and hope. And it is a tragedy for human beings everywhere more broadly, because we are forced once again to confront our apparently innate capacity to hate those we do not know.
What is this all about? Why do we not become more tolerant with each succeeding generation, as we get to know each other better? Why do so many people continue to believe that just because they happen to have been born with a certain skin tone, or a certain sexual orientation, or into a certain religion – through no effort of their own, no decision one way or the other – that they are somehow more acceptable than someone else?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
What happened to that noble sentiment, that ideal?
Last week the New York Times published statistics on hate crimes as compiled by the FBI for 2005 and 2014. One jaw-dropping and absolutely horrifying statistic presented was that in 2005, 60 years after a World War in which more than 10 million innocent, hard-working, peace-respecting Jewish men, women, and children were rounded up, tortured, and murdered for nothing more than their religion, Jews remained the #1 target of hate crimes in the U.S. What does that say about our capacity for compassion?
And now, ten years later, another group of people have moved up from target #2 to target #1, surpassing Jews in the number of hate crimes perpetuated against them. These are our LBGTQ friends, neighbours, family members, and colleagues. People who are targeted for nothing more than their sexual orientation. Once again, what does that say about our capacity for compassion?
The marginally good news is that according to these charts, the number of hate crimes actually decreased in that 10 year period. That was two years ago; sadly, my guess is that this is no longer the case. What can we do to combat hatred, which seems to come to people more easily than compassion?
There is an answer. We can support leadership that promotes understanding and compassion. We can reject leadership that feeds off fear and lack of understanding. We are better than this. “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”