Saturday, January 8

polarization, empathy, and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

As I was sitting here, writing about identity, about who we are not being the same as what we do, news broke about the Arizona shooting today that took the life of a child and resulted in the shooting of several other people (specifics are still sketchy) including Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and Arizona Federal Judge John Roll (also deceased). I was in a great mood, optimistic, hopeful, full of good-natured inspiration. Now, not so much.


When two people sit in the middle of a teeter-totter not much happens. But when they slide out to the ends things can get violent, even when one or both people have the best motives and intentions. It’s just the physics of polarization.

We’re at the ends of the teeter-totter right now. It’s uglier than usual and I honestly can’t begin to imagine how it’s going to play out. I hope that empathy wins out, the kind of courageous, fully spent, "damn the torpedoes" empathy that my favorite people advocate, that I love the idea of. One where we see people for their hearts instead of for their clothes or titles or the cars they drive or the party pins they wear on their jackets.

Somebody reaching for that kind of empathy would not have used a gun on a crowd of people today in Arizona. They just wouldn’t have. Somebody embracing that kind of empathy would be repelled by violence and insanity. People that are committed to looking into others and identifying with them as human beings don’t use guns to express a point. They aren’t cowards or murderers.For them, violence is anathema.

Events like the one today are like having a giant mirror held up in front of us, collectively, as a people, a species. Whatever Jared Loughner’s motives, we still have the opportunity to recognize that our culture of violence, extreme polarization, and extreme hate plays a part in creating people like him. We all get to own that, have to own that, and use it as motivation to keep reaching for the kind of empathy that would make hate obsolete. Or at least endangered. 

I'd settle for endangered.

I listened to the following speech earlier and just had to sit back and shake my head. It’s amazing and as applicable today as it was then. I’ll leave you with it. Please take care of and with each other.