This week has killed my spirit a little bit.
It began when I turned forty on Saturday. The day itself was fun, but it marked a moment in my life I’d been dreading somewhat this entire year. Mid-life is officially upon me, and I have little to show for it. Yes, I have great friends and family, and I’m not bemoaning those, but I’m nowhere near where I expected to be at this point in my life. But this post is not about me and my admittedly self-indulgent little existential crisis. Shortly after my birthday ended, one of our nation’s most horrific moments happened. I’m obviously referring to the shooting in Orlando which claimed 49 innocent lives. This is the third tragedy that will now be connected in my mind to my birthday. In 1994, O.J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman on the day after my birthday (and the day I graduated from High School), and I’ve been obsessed with that ever since. In 2001, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed on my birthday, for the worst terrorist attack in the US before 9/11 after blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including children. And now there’s Orlando. And to add insult to injury, a small child was killed by an alligator in the happiest place on earth, Disney World.
The fact that these events happened near my birthday is meaningless except that I’ve been thinking about them this week, and its added to my malaise. The Orlando shooting and the alligator attack are horribly sad events, involving many angles, invoking extreme emotions and opinions of all kinds in many people, which of course has caused the internet to go insane. Not to mention that it was still reeling from the Stanford rapist’s verdict the week prior…
While the tragedies themselves have hurt my heart, its the activity I’ve seen in social media and elsewhere is what has my mind swirling, and draining me most this week. I’ve found myself bowing out of the discussion altogether. I don’t think I’ve really said anything about either tragedy or all the surrounding issues online at all. If I have, it was in the most passive way possible. That alone is odd. I certainly have opinions and I get the passion that everyone has for their particular take on what happened. I get it. I love vibrant debate and discussion. But what really saddens me is the predictable lines in the sand being drawn. Rather than calm and rational discussions about complicated issues, friends and family have found new ways to tear each other down.
This post is not about my position on gun control, the 2nd Amendment, or radical Islam (or even my opinion on if I should use the phrase “radical Islam”), homophobia, Islamophobia, or unsupervised children, or how we may or may not be able to keep violence from happening in the future. Maybe I’ll write another post about those things. Maybe not. This post is me pleading with everyone to remember that most people in the world are not psychopaths, or murderous, or evil, or even hateful. Most people are just like you, more or less. They love their friends and family, and have people who love them. They are good at some things, and bad at other things. Have had ups and downs in their lives. They make terrible life-altering mistakes, and they have great victories, and all that comes in between just trying to survive daily life. Each of them, even the most brilliant among them, is filled with imperfect knowledge of all things. Most of them are doing their best at that moment in time.
So instead of unfriending your ignorant friend, or ripping your crazy uncle a new one for being so stupid, let me offer this humble request: If you can’t engage with people in a way that offers the benefit of the doubt that their opinion is not born from evil intentions, then block them or don’t engage with them online, but don’t shut them out of your lives completely. I’m usually the last one to offer advice of censorship. It actually makes me really sad to write such a thing, but every time something like this happens, its the same cycle over and over again. We shout at each other, but never listen. You don’t need to lose your passion, or change your mind on XYZ. I have opinions and thoughts on what happened and what to do (or not do) about it like anyone else, but the only thing I am certain of is this: I don’t have all the answers, and I could be wrong. Life is too short to allow a deranged, selfish murderer ruin the bonds built over a lifetime.