For years I have pondered this question. With the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise one witnessed members of both political parties coming together to play softball in his honor. They didn’t wear their traditional blue and red uniforms but rather wore clothing of Mr. Scalise’s alma mater. For a moment, polarization stopped in its tracks. Differences and disunity disappeared as quickly as darkness does when the sun rises.
I’m sure you can think of countless instances where neighbors and strangers have come together without a thought to help those stricken by tragedy. The heroic acts of kindness and generosity are astounding. But when the tragedy passes, differences re-emerge and we’re back focusing on our animosities and hostilities.
Tragedy creates a unique force that touches the very soul of our humanity like almost nothing else. While we may not be conscious of it, it serves to blast open the door to our heart that we often keep locked away surrounded by walls of trauma, pain, and fear. What emerges is compassion and generosity. For a brief time, we are able to put ourselves into the shoes of others and help them as we would like to be aided if we were in similar circumstances. In that space, we are reminded that innately, we were created from love. The acts of kindness that derive from our heart not only bring us back in touch with our innate humanity, but it also rebuilds the bridge to our collective “oneness” as human beings without labels that serve to divide us.
The follow-up questions to the title of this article are these: Why it is so difficult to maintain that generosity and sense of oneness after the tragedy? Why do we allow ourselves to forget those moments when the only thing that matters is ministering to people in need regardless of the laundry list of judgments?
The simple answer is that is it a pattern that we have learned through the ages and which has conditioned our thinking. But we do not have to be held hostage by our conditioning. We can choose differently. It takes courage, it takes allowing for failure in the process, and it takes single-minded determination. At every moment, we have a choice to come from a place of love or a place of hate. It is the singular choice that will determine whether a person will be transformed from being an enemy or a friend. When we are able to choose consciously whether we will see and treat others from a shared sense of humanity and not through the confines of strict individualistic concerns, then problems can be more easily resolved.
Congressman Scalise was most likely shot because he is a Republican and the shooter was a Democrat. The perpetrator lost his life and the Congressman may lose his. Has this event solved anything? No. But what it did do is to see how lethal hatred is. Ironically, it is the tragedy, however, that reminded us of our humanity. Do we need to lose so much and harm so many to re-kindle the remembrance of that shared humanity?
Without exception, all the wars, the fighting, the killings, are the result of one side being against the other. The shared emotion is one of hate and not being able to see the other person as a human being. We make others wrong because of their race, color, or creed. We “dehumanize” them so as to forget that they want the same things that we do. We all want to be loved, to provide and protect our families, to be validated, to contribute, to have sufficient financial resources. We just have different ways of going about it. But when we lose sight of our shared human-ness, greed, control, and covetness take over and we choose one side over the other.
It’s time that we consciously choose to live our lives differently. We do not have to be slaves to the status quo. We can choose to remember who we truly are collectively without all the labels of division. We can open our heart and be a model to others. Those who choose this route will affect the collective and over time, positive changes occur. For if we don’t, we invite more tragedy and loss as a stark reminder of our innate humanity.
As Martin Luther said,
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. ”