Last Sunday, it happened again. A lone gunman opened fire in a crowded nightclub and killed or injured almost one hundred people. Thousands of lives were changed because of that man's actions. Immediately the questions arose, such as: "Was it a terrorist action?" "Was it a hate crime?" "Is there a difference?" "Where did he get his guns?" Certainly, in the days since then, we've learned some of the answers to questions like those. Knowing those answers will not change what happened. And, as we've seen in the wake of similar events, knowing the answers probably won't result in any lasting change in public policies. Just as immediately, and regardless of any answers to the questions, fingers began pointing. It's the easy thing to do; fix the blame elsewhere. This serves to re-establish certainty and normalcy, the notion that the world works in a particular way where "those kind of people" do "those kinds of things". And, of course, usually, "those people" are different from "us". The manner of difference varies widely, but we know who WE are by who we ARE NOT. There's nothing new about any of this. Sociologists have pointed out this phenomenon for a long time, and have observed it in the scriptures and writings of just about every religion and people. The problem is that these "easy" solutions don't, ultimately, work. Oh, some quick fixes might achieve some short-term results. Most often they simply serve to help us become even more entrenched in our own position, within our own tribe. They arise out of a place of fear. And those who would "have their way" with us will appeal to that fear, and we, too often, will give in. It's just easier.
But what if we operated out of a place of hope? What if, when encountering difference, or something we just don't understand, we saw it as an opportunity for growth, a chance for a better future? What if, instead of putting up our dukes, we pulled up some chairs, poured some tea/coffee, and shared our aspirations? My experience in those kinds of settings is that the tribalism begins to recede once we get to know the other. Of course, that's more difficult. Not only do we have to be open to hear and understand the "enemy", we have to be open to understand ourselves! And it takes a lot of humility to admit we don't have all the answers. Such engagements will not prevent what happened last Sunday. Tragedies like that are, unfortunately, part of our human story. As we have advanced in technology (from the rock, to the arrow, to the gun, to the atomic bomb), we have simply made the toll more likely to be higher. But our response cannot be to throw up our hands in despair, and retreat to our dens of fear. We need to seek out those with whom we differ, set aside our individual agendas, and learn together what we would like to see as a future.
So, along with that tea/coffee, how 'bout a serving of humble pie.