Note: I hesitated publishing this piece. My hesitation has little to do with what I am going to say. Rather I hesitate because 2016 is an election year here in the United States. I’ve lived through enough of these election cycles to have learned that almost anything and everything gets politicized during an election. Even tragedies. I am also painfully aware of how polarized our political discourse has become here in America. So, the reader is free to interpret my words in any way he or she would like but, I want it to be known that my intent herein is apolitical.
I was writing a piece about empathy when I learned of the massacre in Orlando, Florida last Sunday morning. This piece, though rewritten from its original draft, remains about empathy. Everyone, not just those of us in the United States, need empathy right now. We all need to stand in other people’s shoes and attempt to see the world through the others eyes. And we need others to see the world through our eyes too. The capacity to do so is the foundation of empathy and its active cousin, compassion.
However misguided their tactics and motivations seem to us, the people committing these horrific and often unthinkable crimes, believe what they are doing is right. Demonizing or labeling those who wish to destabilize our culture and society as something less than human will not alter their goals or change their beliefs. Neither will reasoned protest from our side of the world convince them to abandon they are wrong. Nor are we going to convince them that we are right in our beliefs. Faced with this seemingly irresolvable conflict, it is easy to feel hopeless, powerless and afraid.
Yet, understanding is what is required if we collectively are going to find our way through these dangerous and uncertain times. The hardest thing to do sometimes in a conflict is to work through our differences while fearful. Yet, there is no other way. As a couples therapist I know this to be true. I and other therapists I know often say to couples in the throes of reoccurring conflict that they can be right or, they can be married. They cannot be both.
Collectively, something similar can be applied to the times we are now living: We can be right or we can be secure. We may not be able to do both. The first step in understanding is be willing to empathize with another with whom we may vehemently disagree. And to be clear, understanding in no way implies agreement. However, without understanding, without empathy of how another person sees the world, resolution may never occur and conflict can and will continue.
So I hope that you will first be empathic with yourself. Allow yourself to acknowledge what are likely complex and nuanced feelings about what has happened. Lean on others for support. These are difficult times we are all living through no matter where in the world you are. With each others support and understanding we can then embark on the hard and frightening work of doing our utmost to understand why those who have taken to that killing innocents is their righteous solution. It isn’t easy but doing so may lead to discovering options which may lead to change and resolution.