I woke up this morning to missed calls and messages from my sister. Anyone living abroad knows that messages arriving in the middle of the night do not usually contain good news, and this time was no exception.
I read headlines about “Massacre at the Mosques”, “Christchurch Shooting!”, “Nine dead”, then “27 dead”. Then facebook chimes in with “thoughts and prayers” as if this was just another American school shooting. There are “updates” of “30 dead”, then “40 dead”, then “49 dead” like some grotesque sports score. Then come the “How to talk to children about terrorism” links. Still more thoughts and prayers. Then the facebook frames as people seek to surround themselves with “This is not who we are”, and “This is not our NZ”.
Jacinda’s press release echoes the sentiment too. The “this is not us” idea, the “not on my watch”, “not in my country” idea. And I get it, I do. I even shared the lower picture myself because of the first few lines, but then deleted it five minutes later when the last line really started to sink in.
“THIS IS NOT OUR NZ”. Yes, folks, yes it is.
That’s the real trouble here. This is us. This is the reality of our own previous thoughts and prayers and behaviours and actions – and inactions.
We’re all on a continuum. We’re connected to each other, each one to another, whether we like it or not. It’s even right there in terms like “extremist” and “far right” – there is not a discrete barrier between “right” and “far right”, it’s just a matter of distance. Our gut reaction to horrific acts of violence like those in Christchurch today is to deny the continuum and separate ourselves from it. To say This is not who we are, and Not My NZ. I get it. We want no part of the horror. We want the world to know that this is not us. Except. Well, this is the toughest part really. Except that it is.
Do I take responsiblity away from murderers? No. Am I saying this is ok? Hell, no. Am I advocating for some kind of extremist left-wing response here? No. What I want is something much, much bigger.
I spent a couple of weeks recently cleaning my house in Auckland to get it ready for the next tenants. I was quite shocked to find black mould growing in the bathroom, kitchen, around the brand new seals in the bedroom windows, and even in the blinds. Lots of it. Black, awful, unhealthy mould. I’ve lived in that same house for the last decade and didn’t have it. Did my tenants cause it? Did they bring it? Are they black mould spores disguised as a lovely family like some episode of Dr Who? Was this what they wanted? No, no, no, and no. But. They’re still responsible for it. They had a duty of care. Their choices, actions and inactions perpetuated an environment in which the mould could thrive, spread and grow.
I think it’s the same for us now. We – most of us – are not murderers. We are not terrorists. We are genuinely shocked and saddened and we do genuinely think and pray. But we are part of it too. We – each of us – have a duty of care to the social environment in which we live. We are part of the continuum. We have been part of creating it and of perpetuating it. The trouble is that it’s frequently by our ignorance and inaction than by our actions, which makes it harder for us to realise in the first place, let alone to accept and deal with properly.
I hope you’re as challenged by this as I am. I hope it shocks you and makes you angry. And then I hope you read further…
… because, believe it or not, realising our part in all this is actually good news. If we’re part of it, it if is us, that means we get to challenge it and then to change it. Surely it’s better to acknowledge the connection and then take control than to deny it and be helpless? Harder, sure. Better, certainly.
So how does that work? Here are a few of my top-of-the-head suggestions. Please, if you have others, let me know so I can add to the list.
Call it out. When your friend, colleague, family member, guy overheard at the bus-stop says something like “bloody Muslims”, “damned Chinese”, “stupid Maori”, “island bludgers”, “lazy immigrants”, “stupid woman”, “bloody men” etc. I once heard a story (or it may have been a dream, it was a long time ago!) about a young girl in a train station. She was about five years old, lost, dirty, shoe-less and alone. I wondered why everyone else was ignoring her and no-one thought to do anything about it. Eventually I went up to her and asked where her parents were and why no-one else did anything to help. Her reply: “You’re the only one who can see me.” When we say we are all part of something it’s too easy to forget that we are each part of it too. It’s the well-known bystander effect. So let’s not think we’re all part of it. Rather, let’s each be part of it. We can each be part of the solution. We are each present in moments that no-one else can see, and in those moments we are the only hero available. And it doesn’t matter who you’re with – when you see injustice, call it out, challenge and change the environment, open the window.
Get over your outrage. A facebook friend shares little else besides stories and reports of atrocities committed by Israelis on Palestinians. The volume of them, their inhuman content, the utter horror of each and every story screams his frustration. And they’re hard to see. And harder still to read. And I do, on occasion, feel annoyed at having to scroll past these awful images and headlines to find the latest cute cat video or photo of someone’s posh lunch. I need to direct my outrage in the correct direction.
Use your strength. But again, use it in the right direction. I’m not talking about rampaging through the streets, or fueling yet more hate and division. I’m not talking about ring-fencing yet another group or label or community and hating them instead. I’m talking about being strong enough to not glorify the perpetrators by reading their manifestos, by not viewing their sick videos, by not making them famous. By being strong enough to let our feelings of genuine horror and shock remain undiluted by the entertainment value and headlines of someone else’s tragedy. Instead, let’s use our strength wisely and well.
Educate yourself responsibly. Don’t support the divisive idiocy of the media, who, for the single benefit of their own back pockets, will publish articles and headlines designed to stoke fires of hate. Don’t buy them, don’t share them, don’t give them space. Read this and let it sink in.
Be humbled. Don’t think that any of us, any country, any community or any ideology is above or immune from the horrific acts we saw today. We’re all part of all of it. It could have been us, on either end of the guns. Until we realise that, and our own part in this environment, there can be no hope for change.