Ever stop to think about what it is that divides us? I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. Trying to decide if I had anything worth saying on the topic, or even if I could put my thoughts into words in such a way that I didn’t inadvertently widen the chasm.
As a police officer I’ve seen more than my share of hate and violence. Watched people do and say horrific things to each other. Witnessed families torn apart by abuse, both the domestic and substance variety. Sometimes both.
I’ve seen the ugliness of death and the ache of despair. I watched people publicly champion a cause and then turn a blind eye to those in need. It’s the human condition. None of us are immune from its hypocrisy.
Back in 2012, after nearly three decades as a cop, I made the decision to get out. Being a cop and witnessing the worst humanity had to offer day in and day out took a toll, as it does on every first responder. Quite honestly I was tired. Tired of other people and the way they treated each other. Tired of trying to make a positive difference in their lives, and never quite feeling that I had.
Hanging up my gun and badge was cathartic, and it worked for a while. My focus changed, along with my experiences. It was nice to spend time with people who weren’t drunk, or bloodied, or crazed. No longer was there a need for me to act as referee while adults, acting as children, attempted to inflict physical harm on one another over differences of opinion.
Lately however I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time. I’ve gotten repeated glimpses into the ugliness of human nature. Social media has become a place to strike out at others who disagree with our points of view, on literally every single topic. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. You’re either with us or against us. Sound familiar?
I’ve heard others express the same feelings of lament over these interactions, then go about their business as if they played no part in it. People I look up to and consider friends have written and said things to and about others that I would never think about writing or saying.
I submit to you that we all play a part in it. The way we treat others, the way we respond. Has the need to be right, at all costs, become more important than the need for compassion? Is it possible that the very people we are condemning have had vastly different life experiences from our own? Perhaps we could actually learn from one another instead of shutting each other out, blocking, or unfriending. I shake my head each time I see that word used. When I was growing up we never had need of such a word as unfriending. Oh, you could be “on the outs” with someone, but that was really only a temporary status. You could be pissed at someone but still be their friend. Maybe it’s because there was more to earning friendship than clicking accept in an electronic box.
Have we become so cold-hearted and distant as a society that we can no longer be bothered to take the time to make real and lasting friendships?
I’ve watched fellow writers struggle with a bad review or writer’s block, and I’ve felt for them. We all know how difficult it is to invest so much of ourselves and our feelings into the books we write. But then I’ve looked on in amazement as these same people piled on when another writer had some “undeserved success”, or garnered some “undeserved accolade”, or crossed some imagined “territorial boundary”. I don’t pretend to know what any of my fellow writers have been through in their lives, but I know that we all have stories in need of telling. And I will defend the right to tell those stories.
Perhaps the way in which we, as a society, can begin to heal is through reflection. Before we post another provocative tweet, or share some inflammatory meme, or say something we will later regret, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves is this really necessary? Would I say this if the person was standing right in front of me? Am I part of the problem?
Are you like me? Are you tired of what the world has become? Would you like to have a more positive outlook on life? Ask yourself what you can do, or not do, today that will brighten someone else’s day. Perhaps we would all do well to heed Otis’s advice and try a little tenderness. Let’s start with that.