I can tell by the way your hands clench unconsciously into fists. I see your pupils opening wide, the way your eyes flick around, sensitive to the slightest movement. I imagine you can hear your heart booming in your ears.
I’m afraid, too.
I can tell we’re afraid by the way we talk about each other. We’re in a race to see who can become outraged first, who can leave the first cutting comment, who can make the most clever retort to the opposition.
I can tell we’re afraid because we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re running with our fingers in our ears, yelling and cursing at one another.
We’re preparing ourselves for violence. Our ancestors spiraled into and out of this cycle of fear and we’re caught up in it again: We dehumanize those we fear. We gather our strength, we shore up our consciences, we prepare our propaganda. We maim. We steal. We kill.
It doesn’t have to end like this.
Since the recent events in Ferguson, I’ve heard it said that, “people in Ferguson are behaving like animals.”
Human beings are the most amazing, inexplicable, beautiful, awe-inspiring creatures in this universe. To say people are “acting like animals” is an unacceptable disrespect to their essential humanity. And, let’s be frank, what people mean when they say this is “black people are sub-human.” They don’t have the guts to say it straight out, though. Because they’re cowards. And I hope because they’re ashamed.
Increasingly often, I hear women referred to as “bitches” in real life and in our entertainment. It astonishes me that our culture has reached a place where degrading a woman’s essential humanity is not only tolerated but held up as a norm. Every human being on earth is worthy of respect and love simply by virtue of being human. To equate a woman with an animal because she’s angry, or because she turned you down for a date, or simply because she doesn’t have a Y chromosome is an act of cowardice that is stunning in its audacity.
Why do we do this? Why do we deny people’s humanity? Because, of course, we’re afraid. We are preparing to do violence, we are preparing for war. I know this one is hard, but the 9-11 terrorists were not “monsters.” To call them that, to deny their essential humanity, puts us in danger of becoming like them. They were ordinary human beings who let fear warp them, twist them into damaged people who thought their best option was to do violence against the “devils” who assailed them. They weren’t monsters, they were human beings, terrified of the world around them and thinking they could remake it in their own image. There’s a reason that the weapons of the terrorist are violence and fear. They wish to make us like them.
On and on it goes. We define “others” by ethnicity, or social class, or age, or status, or their religion, their orientation, their marital status, or how they entered the country, doing everything we can to avoid calling them what they are: people just like us.
It’s as if we haven’t yet learned one of the clearest lessons of our history: the most terrified people are the ones with the biggest guns, the quickest tempers, the bloodiest knuckles. We have to stop being afraid of one another and there’s only one path I know that can take us there.
We have to love one another.
I know what you will say. When our enemies come, love won’t stop a bullet.
Maybe you’re right.
Maybe if we stop being afraid and try to love our enemies, our enemies will destroy us. Maybe they’ll kill us. Take our jobs. Break apart our families. Rise to power in the government. Keep us in the slums. Shoot our children in the streets for stealing a loaf of bread.
Because “my” loaf of bread is more valuable than “their” lives.
I can’t help but notice how often I’ve heard lately that the police are present to “prevent damage to private and public property.” As if that matters anywhere near as much as one human life. I cringe to think of a police officer losing his or her life to stop a thief. I shudder to think someone might die because he or she stole a few hundred dollars from a fast food cash register, or a box of cigars. How have we built a world where human life is worth so little? What happened to us? What have we become?
I’m afraid we’re killing ourselves. I’m afraid we’ve lost our way. We’re broken and scared, so we break them before they can break us.
Violence, coercion, propaganda, power, money, words. We’re using them to harm each other. We’re loading our shotguns and barring our doors. We’re stockpiling canned goods and waiting for it all to fall down.
Love may not stop a bullet, but violence doesn’t put an end to fear. We are afraid and we lash out and we destroy what we fear only to discover that the shadows have multiplied. The enemies have organized. Fear gains control and reproduces and breeds more violence, more fear, more death and it grows, like a colony of cockroaches, skittering through our lives, expanding and spreading to those around us.
Love can’t stop a bullet, but it can stop fear.
Love is roach poison. Love is a blazing light. Love is the seed of courage. Love disarms fear.
You don’t have to be afraid anymore.
But, you say, love can’t beat violence. Love can’t stop a bullet.