What follows is a letter I wrote to every person on my email list, that I have ever corresponded with. It is important to me to get this message out, as soon as possible, as wide as possible.
Many of you, I haven't spoken to in weeks, months or even years. I'm sorry. I pray for you, your families, and anyone you may have lost in these tragic times. I want you back in my life, because you are important to me.
What I am about to say is going to sound trite.
What I am about to say is going to sound clichéd.
What I am about to say is true.
I am going to use phrases from pop culture that we all know, because they communicate more quickly the ideas that have taken years for me to formulate and articulate; not because I lack the imagination to think for myself. Taken within the context of my whole life, they make perfect sense to me, but I don't have the time to explain all that. So please. Look deeper. Before you respond, take a deep breath. Sit with it awhile. Come back to it 2 or 3 times before you write anything.
This is too important for me, to try to send to individuals. By the time I talk to each of you, I feel that it will be too late (judging by how few of you I have been able to see or speak to in the last week). So, even though I have had a long talk with one of my friends about how poorly my mass-emails have gone over, I am sending this to everyone that I care about.
I can't tailor this to fit each person's personality quirks, to appeal to each person's individual hopes or goals. That is the business of politics. I am not a politician. I am a human being, and this entire situation is about the state of human beings, just like you and me, NOT about America, or a political agenda. It is about seeing human nature, in all its ugliness and glory.
I am a truth seeker. That's why I bounce my ideas off of everyone, take your input, and come back to you later, and try again. Oftentimes the truth hurts. Socrates was put to death for it. But truth can be dealt with. Lies and denial only hinder our pursuit.
In Star Wars: Episode 1, Yoda said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” Suffering is what is happening in this world right now.
So what leads to fear? What starts this chain of human emotions that ends in sorrow?
Not knowing. Not understanding.
In order not to fear, we need to look into ourselves, and feel secure in our values, and things we hold dear. We should not give those things up, just because we are threatened from without. Because our strength comes from within.
In 1851 Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” I don't know if this was an insight based solely upon experience, or in response to some tragedy. But in the face of the intense trials facing our country, President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeated that idea in 1933 saying, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
So what is it I fear? What is it that I don't know?
I do know that people from all over the world have joined together, to offer money, blood, time, resources, and their hearts, in order to help the victims of this tragedy. I saw how, on Amazon.com, one of my friends had seen $1000 donated to the Red Cross through their site Wed morning, then at $3000 by Thurs afternoon. By the time I reached the site Fri morning, the total was at $4,900,171 and change. I had to stop and count the commas, just to be sure. That is almost $5 MILLION dollars raised, and that was merely through that one portal. In 3 days. I haven't been back to see what it is now. The Red Cross is also receiving donations in the mail, and through direct phone calls.
The horror of these acts knows no national boundaries. Human beings of every skin color and religious belief are shaken by what has transpired, and have declared their sorrow for the destruction and loss of human life.
Then there are those reports of the Palestinians who cheered upon hearing the news. Those Palestinians must be some awful people, huh?
Now imagine that we had received videotape of Iraqi rebels dragging Saddam Hussein into the streets of Baghdad, his “government” in shambles. You can hear the cheers that would erupt in the US, just as well as I can… Look into those feelings. Please.
Are the Palestinians really so different from ourselves? They share the same anger and pain that we do, only they have sustained it for a much longer time, and have managed to turn it into hatred. We must not allow that to happen to us.
The character of the terrorists has been made clear. They are cowardly; lurking in the shadows; waiting for the time to strike the innocent, in order to draw a larger fight; hoping to pick up allies, once their enemy makes a misstep.
What is unknown to me is the true hearts of my fellow Americans. We are grieving, in pain, and desperate to show that we are strong (grief does not demonstrate weakness, by the way). So we posture, and we talk big.
But this also makes us unpredictable. President Bush has said that the terrorists have “roused a mighty giant” and this is certainly true. We have a lot of power. We're not afraid to use it. We are in the moral right. We are righteous in our anger.
But righteousness, while powerful and focused, can be a dangerous thing to ourselves, as well as our enemies.
Within the safety that the freedom of the country has provided, we have been able to nurture such values as respect for life, helping others, and supporting the same freedoms for everyone on earth. We must not let these terrorist acts destroy these values.
They think that these values are our weakness. What they do not realize is that they are our greatest strength. If they succeed in causing us to displace our values, THEN they truly have won.
In my work with abused and emotionally disturbed kids, I was trained in how to de-escalate potentially explosive situations. I worked with teenagers, notoriously hard to deal with in the first place. You would be surprised (I know I am, looking back) how well we could contain outbreaks of violence and property damage, without ever having to touch the child. But sometimes, the kids go too far. We were trained to deal with that, as well. We were trained to use the least amount of force necessary, and to keep ourselves safe. We were instructed to only use more force, when it becomes clear that the current level still creates a risk to the child or others.
In our training, we had the restraints done to us, just as we learned how to apply them to someone else. Having 2 people (or more) lay their entire body weight upon you, and keep you from struggling is NOT fun. It is very scary, as a matter of fact.
In the 4 years in my field, I have had to do a number of restraints. I have never enjoyed it, but it needed to be done. So I did it. I had to set aside all my personal feelings I had, despite the threats and insults I received, and concentrate on keeping that child safe.
Some were so uncontrollable that they were sent to a hospital, or juvenile hall, in order to keep them safe. Some kids I would have to look in the eye the very next day.
I've been hearing this statement a lot in the last few days. “It needs to be done.” “It,” being war.
I recognize that, just like the kids I have described, we have given the terrorists plenty of chances to end their murderous behavior. They haven't stopped, so we must stop them.
But that does not mean that we must enjoy it. This is a dirty job. We must not forget that this is a dirty job. We are in this for justice, not payback.
When we have won the war, and we are cheering, and crying, and hugging each other, let those cheers be of relief, not of delight over the destruction has been left in the wake of an unavoidable conflict. When it is over, we will be able to mourn for the losses incurred, and we should mourn for both sides.
Yes, for both sides.
I listened to it during the Gulf War. Cheers in my classes, when we heard about yet another target destroyed by our missiles. Exultation in showing Saddam what we could do. Do you remember that? We rode a wave of nationalism that was unprecedented in my lifetime. Until now.
We must rally together, and show our unity. But please remember that nationalism is the weapon that Hitler used to convince an entire nation to rally behind what became atrocities uncountable (though 5 million is the number springing to mind right now… isn't that a low number?). He used nationalism, and fear.
George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a philosopher in the 1800s, said “What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principals deduced from it.” I found this quote, while looking for the one that says, “Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” I don't know who said that one, and I don't even know that I have it correct, but it says the same thing.
We must look critically at the things that have led up to this day. We must look at our successes, and our failures, and use that knowledge to avoid making the mistakes that have plagued our ancestors for millennia. 4 and a half millennia (isn't that the time frame scientists have placed on mankind's existence?). That's an awful lot of history. That's an awful lot of successes and failures. There are more people alive right now, than have ever died on earth.
When do we evolve our perceptions? Our ideas? When do we grow beyond the animal, lurking at the base of our brains? Human beings have become what we are, because of a large surface area of gray matter. We have been able to grow in a world filled with large animals with sharp teeth and claws, and dense fur to keep them warm, despite having no such defenses ourselves.
How did we do this? We used our developed forebrains to devise our own defenses from the world around us (think of Tarzan, whether from the book, or the Disney movie). No fur? We'll cover ourselves with animal skin. No claws? We'll use that sharp rock. We formed social groups and we helped each other. We protected each other. Some made sacrifices of themselves, because they knew that the others would be able to thrive, even after they were gone.
A smart human evolves when they learn from their own successes, and the hardest lessons are from their failures. But the smart human will learn from OTHERS' successes and failures. And the truly evolved human will know all this instinctively, and be able to concern itself with more important matters, when the pointlessness of hatred, bigotry, and fear becomes clear.
The price that humanity has paid to learn these lessons is immense. But that should only serve to reinforce how valuable the lessons are. We must not give them up.
I grieve for the loss of the human lives in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. I grieve for the loss of our innocence. I grieve for the loss of humanity in the perpetrators of these heinous acts.
I cannot fathom how faith in a divine, all-powerful God, can lead one to abandon the very principles of life that it professes to teach. The persons responsible have perverted these messages, to justify their own selfish ends. Human beings do not act, without some sort of reason, even if it's based on twisted, distorted, dream-logic. “It made sense at the time.” Islam is not the first religion that had its zealots who followed their own path, using the name of their faith even as they ignored it. Christians are responsible for the Inquisition and the slaughter of indigenous people. Both Christians and Muslim played their parts in the Crusades.
But these acts do not portray either religion, as they truly are. Do not let one group's distorted mirror change the good deeds done by peoples of any religious background. Faith has been the support for many of us in these difficult times. Notice that I did not say, “religion,” I said faith.
I have faith that truth will win out.
We're in this together.
I love you all.
We're in this together. - Nine Inch Nails