It has been a looooong time since I have posted here, but this seemed like a good message to share (Past Deadline column, Perth Courier, for July 14/16).
See the people
I think, maybe, we aren’t seeing people anymore.
I mean really seeing them. Seeing that they have hearts and minds and thoughts and emotions. Seeing that a person isn’t just there to do a thing for you.
I think, maybe, we aren’t seeing that everyone comes from somewhere. They have been influenced by things. The split-second choices they make are, all at once, a combination of the circumstances of a moment (such as fear) and an accumulation of everything they are and the experiences they’ve had.
Sometimes choices have bad consequences.
I’ve been struggling to find words to talk about the things happening in the United States – the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the black men shot by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, and of the five police officers killed in Dallas.
With everything that is being expressed on television and in newspapers and, especially, on social media, it’s a din. It feels as if everything has been said and nothing has been said. It’s a cacophony of indignation and sorrow and fear and rage and even hope, but it’s hard to digest it all.
If I stand back from the din and turn off the social media and just think about it, I always come back to the people.
I think of my friends and colleagues who are police officers. I think of the work they do – the hundreds and thousands of interactions they have with people that are really, at the core, just about helping and making things better. I think about how, time after time, they face people who are having their worst day ever. Or how they are the ones who go to the places where people are intent upon doing harm to others, and they try to stop it to keep others safe.
Sometimes people are carrying guns for no apparent reason – or simply because they can. Sometimes people want to kill police officers just because of the job they do.
And sometimes a collection of moments – of split-second decisions – doesn’t end well.
The shootings in Baton Rouge and Minnesota have led to more fear and distrust and outrage. Often (as seen by the events in Dallas) it translates into hatred of the police.
I think of the police officers I know and I worry about the moments they will find themselves in. When the spotlight shines on the bad stuff, it’s important to remember the myriad moments that go unseen – when things go well and help is provided and bad days turn into better ones for someone.
I see police officers who are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. People who coach teams and teach karate. I see them as people – friends and neighbours.
It was hard to find words after the shootings in Orlando, too, when 49 people were killed in what has been called the deadliest incident of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the U.S.
I kept thinking of my friend and neighbour, a transgender man, who is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. We try to solve the world’s problems over the fence while we weed our vegetable gardens. I thought of a gay colleague I admire who is a community leader and who has profoundly affected the lives of many in our community.
I attended the vigil for Orlando that was held in Perth. My neighbour and my colleague both spoke and their words were healing, but as I looked around at those assembled I felt such sorrow to know that peaceful people are killed simply for being who are they are.
Someone asked me that evening why there were police officers at the vigil. The question made me feel sad.
Because they want our friends and neighbours and colleagues to feel safe, and they want to show respect.
We can’t all be the same. We all come from somewhere. We are made by our experiences. Sometimes those experiences shape us in unpleasant ways. We all carry hurts and joys and opinions and wounds that affect us. We have different gods – or no god. We are different colours and genders and orientations.
But we’re all people. It’s not always easy, but it’s important to try to understand the layers and what makes people tick. We all have hearts and minds and thoughts and emotions. We’re all feeling our way through this world.
Please see people and be kind.