I originally wrote this right after the attack at the Manchester arena in May. I remember sitting there trying to wrap my mind around it and I couldn't. I really can't understand how a person can do something like that. How can a person feel so little regard for someone else's life? How can someone take another person's life so callously like that? We say it's more devastating because there were young children in there but I see the senseless murder of every life, regardless of age, as devastating, and I can't wrap my mind around it. I really can't! Murder is murder. Mass shootings, bombings, and the like are becoming almost a regular occurrence...how did we get here? How did we, as a society, get to this place? Where did we go wrong? When did compassion get replaced by selfishness?
We blame religion but it's not religion's fault. I believe with everything in me that there had to be something inside the person that was already leading him or her towards thinking murder was OK before religion took over. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think I am. There are good Christians and there are bad Christians. Christians have killed in the name of Christ: Crusades anyone? There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. Just because there are some extremists doesn't make it OK to blame the entire religion...it's not the religion, it's the person. I've noticed that there are a lot of people that have forgotten what it means to care about people outside of their own circles.
If you spend a lot of time online, like I do, you'll find there is a lot of hate out there. As someone from a small town this was a major surprise to me. Sure, we spent most of our time at home growing up and didn't really interact with the outside world much, and yes, I dealt with abuse and a hell of a lot of anger from the people around me on a regular basis, but I genuinely believed the world, as a whole, was a decent place. Now I wonder what happened and what went wrong. Did we lose our empathy and compassion when we gained the world at our fingertips? Has sitting in front of a computer screen made us forget that the person we're talking to is, in fact, another person with feelings just like our own? I ask myself these questions all the time and yet I still don't have a clear answer. I get it. It can be difficult to judge a person's intent and meaning behind their words online and things can get heated and out-of-control quickly. All you have to do is read something, get ticked off for whatever reason, type a scathing reply, and hit send. Then they read it, get ticked off, type an equally scathing reply and also hit send. It continues back and forth until someone finally decides to walk away...but not before the damage is done...not before the hate and anger has taken us over.
Have you ever sat and read the comments sections of news articles? It's frightening to see how quick people are to judge and lay blame without the facts or evidence to support their opinions. A child drowns or suffers some other injury and it's automatically the parents' fault. Even when the article says it was an accident there are people placing blame. Isn't the family dealing with enough? Where's the compassion? And those aren't the only kinds of articles you'll find this in. It's everywhere! No matter what the case, you'll find people blaming the victims. Why? Who made them judge? What gives them the right? I know I keep saying this but I really can't wrap my head around this. What gives someone the OK to sit behind their computer and talk to people with such vitriol, hateful, and judgmental self-righteous behavior? How do people like that justify their words to themselves?
And it's not just online either. This anger, this need to lash out at the people around us...to make others feel worse because it somehow makes us feel better, more important to put someone else down and feel bad. At least for a little while anyway. Where did this self-importance come from? Has it always been this way and I just wasn't paying attention? Where has kindness and compassion gone? Is it so hard to believe that the person you're currently yelling at for messing up your order or accidentally bumping into you might be going through something really bad right now? Was losing your temper and throwing a tantrum, let's be honest that's what you did, really worth it? Was it really necessary? Did it make you feel as good as you thought it would or did you feel remorseful? Is it really that hard to control ourselves and our reactions to things? Did we all lose our self-control? Why? How? Why can't we put ourselves in other people's shoes anymore? Why do we feel the need to constantly keep it together anyway?
I'm OK. I'm fine. Nothing's wrong...
These are the biggest lies we tell each other, and ourselves, to hide the truth. We are NOT OK. None of us are. No one leaves this earth unscathed, no one dies unharmed. We all have invisible scars that we try to hide. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US. We are all dealing with our own pain, our own demons, but we rarely (if ever) talk about them. We don't want people to see what's inside. We don't want people to think we're weak or incapable...we don't want people to see us as less than we are. But we never stop to realize we're not as alone as we think we are. We don't think the person asking if we are OK might also not be OK. I mean, they look OK, they seem OK. They must be OK...right? But don't we also do our best to look OK? To seem OK? But we're NOT OK. We're hurting; for whatever reason we have going on; we're not completely OK. We all feel stressed, anxiety, depression, hurt, anger, resentments, bitterness, loneliness, fear...maybe not all the time, maybe it's been a while, but you've felt those things. Something has happened in your life that has affected you and shaped you into who you are right now. No one living right now has had a completely, perfectly happy life. NO ONE. Don't let anyone tell you differently either because it's a lie. How do I know that? Simple. I've lived and I've observed and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it...and I've come to the conclusion that every single person alive has gone through or is going through something that has negatively affected and shaped their lives. Just because you can't see their pain or know their journey does not mean there's nothing wrong. WE ALL WEAR MASKS TO HIDE OUR PAIN. Some of us just wear them better...
I've come to the conclusion that I'm different than most people. That doesn't mean I think I'm special, because I don't think that, not really. But I know my worth, sort of. I know my family cares about me and that I'm special to them but I also know that that doesn't make me more important. In fact, I've come to realize that when you think about how many people have been born and died since as far back as ever and how many people will be born and die in the years and years ahead of us: I'm nothing more than a tiny speck, a blip in time. And like it or not, it's true about you, too. We are all only here for a brief amount of time and then we die. The only thing left of most of us will be the memories that the people around us will have and eventually those memories will fade away or die as they follow us to our graves. So, again I ask: Where has this sense of self-importance and entitlement come from? What makes one person think they are better than the next? What must a person be thinking that makes them think they have the right to treat others so harshly? To take someone else's life? I refuse to believe that religion alone is the reason behind this. I REFUSE. So what is it then?
That Monday night after the Manchester bombing I was sitting with my daughters and two of my nephews and I was reminded that the selfishness and entitlement begins in childhood. Children don't often think about the world outside of their little circles, they have to learn that their words and actions can hurt others. When they are hurting they instinctively lash out. They have to be taught to control their emotions, taught that they aren't the only ones with feelings. But it seems, to me at least, that many people either didn't learn these lessons or have forgotten them along the way. I'm not blaming parents, I know how hard it can be to teach these lessons and make them stick; I worry a great deal about my oldest daughter's behavior and anger sometimes. I do the best I can with what I have, but I'm often afraid it's not going to be enough.
But we can't just blame that anger and hatefulness on our circumstances or childhood traumas. We can't. And I'm not trying to offend anyone here. I've been abused, I've been raped, I've been hurt to the point that I'm not sure I am every going to completely heal but I could never never do something to deliberately cause another person pain. At some point, we have to own our feelings and our actions. At some point, we have to realize that no matter what has happened to us we don't have the right to repeat it to someone else. And I'm kind of torn here, I am. I understand what trauma does to a person. I can see what a person is doing and I understand that there are underlying issues going on that are causing their behaviors. I see my older sister on drugs and trying to destroy her life and it makes me SO angry at her! But I also know what she's been through, and understand that she doesn't know any other way to cope. I blame society. I blame our refusal to talk more openly about mental health and this constant need to pretend we are OK until we can't take it anymore and snap. I blame us all for not making access to mental health services easier. I blame us all for wearing our masks and pretending we're OK when we aren't...but I don't blame religion.
I don't care who you are, your life is NOT more important than mine but my life is NOT more important than yours either. We need to do better. We need to start treating people with kindness and compassion again. We need to remember that the people around us have feelings and those feelings are just as important as ours. We need to start putting ourselves in other people's shoes and thinking about how we'd feel if someone did that to us and then act accordingly. We need to stop being selfish and remember that we are all going through something that can't be seen with our eyes and start trying to see with our hearts.
There is so much more I want to say here, but I think I'm going to leave it with this. Please remember to be kind to everyone around you. Please don't let your anger get the better of you. Please just STOP AND THINK before you say something that could cause someone else pain.
*This was originally posted on 5/31/17.
Contributing Editor: Shawna K. Whaley
I'm a happily divorced, single mom of 2 girls. I have a 12-year-old that thinks she's 16 and a 10-year-old. I work full time in the Medical Records office of a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility for teens in Southeast Ohio. Life isn't always all rainbows and sunshine, but it isn't always clouds and nightmares either. I am a domestic abuse survivor. I've been abused in some way or form for most of my life; verbal, emotional, mental, and yes, some physical and sexual. My self-esteem has taken a major hit. Some days I'm not even sure if I have any...BUT I use what little bit I have to advocate for others. I'm learning to tell my story. By staying silent, my abusers win. I cannot stay silent.