I don't often write about current events in this blog, but like the rest of America, I am reeling from the mass shootings this month in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.
The mission of Free Once Again is to unleash a tribe of sassy older women who heal and repair the world, one relationship at a time, through the energy of play.
It's hard to feel playful with so much hate in the world.
It's hard to feel free.
I believe that we can't be free in a vacuum. I believe that we are only as free as the shoppers at the El Paso Walmart. We are only as secure as the Muslims praying in Christchurch, New Zealand. We're only as playful as the kids eating ice cream in Gilroy.
I had to find a personal touch-point for understanding the killers of children, who time and again are described by family and friends as "perfectly normal." You need to understand the disease in order to find a cure.
"The varied cultures of the world . . ."
Imagine you were on a flight and got to talking about travel adventures with the seatmate who wrote this: "The varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion, and I very much enjoyed nearly every moment I spent with them."
These are the words of the accused Christchurch, New Zealand killer, who wrote the manifesto which inspired the El Paso terrorist.
As I searched for insight about the seeming contradiction of "the guy next door" being a cold-blooded killer, I found a nugget in a David Brooks column, The ideology of Hate and How to Fight It, in the New York Times:
“[White supremacy] is not an ideology that rises out of white self-confidence but rather white insecurity,” wrote Brooks. "It is an ideology that identifies identity as race and immigration as white genocide."
White insecurity. The fear that who I am and what I have, is not enough.
Everyone can relate to feeling insecure. I recall an early experience of feeling insecure, the year the new black kids arrived at my high school.
My Little Town
It was 1971 and we were in turbulent times. In the cities, the late 1960's - 1970's brought riots, protests, and assassinations. Marvin Gaye's album, "What's Going On?" hit #6 on Billboard's Top 10 and stayed there for a year. Even my small, isolated town felt the tension.
We were a Marine Corps town. Those of us who were “townies” were used to making friends with military kids who came and went in two-year cycles, as their dads were deployed overseas. Now, as the Viet Nam war dragged on, the Marine Corps was expanding and becoming more integrated. So were the schools.
I felt nervous when I showed up for class in the fall and saw so many new African American students. The handful of black kids I knew had been friends since grade school. Suddenly there was a new African American girl in my advanced English class (competition!) and a whole new group of black kids hanging in the quad.
I felt nervous. I felt insecure. Would we get along? Would the new black kids like us white kids? Would I like them? Would our school feel the same?
As it turned out, yes, we did get along. The new kids (black, white, and a few Latino) brought energy, healthy competition in academics and sports, and a needed diversity to our mostly white school culture. That year, we had three Homecoming princesses: one Blond, one Black, and one Jewish.
Left to our own devices (and pre-internet), we teens had the good sense to know that race played a supporting role in our struggle to find our identities. More bound us together than tore us apart: our shared angst as teenagers, our sub-group identities as townies or Marine Corps kids, sports or music groupies, nerds or dopers. The typical high school cliques.
Holding us in a container of support was a small-town alliance of parents, teachers, preachers, and military norms of honor of country that told us we belonged here.
We belonged to each other.
We belonged to America.
Out of Many, One
Over the summer, I've been slowly reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari argues that human cultures are in constant flux, and that these natural tensions move humans "in an inexorable trend towards unity." From "us vs. them," to "we."
White supremacy is a reaction against history. It is a zero-sum ideology. It says that we are all competing and that every competition has a winner and a loser. It says that everyone else must lose in order for whites to win.
Harari shows that the world is much more complex than "You lose, therefore I win." We humans naturally experience our world close up, as all creatures do. We are concerned about ourselves, our family and friends. We want everything to be OK. We want to win.
Viewed from a historical perspective, though, "winning and losing" are illusions. The long arc of history moves humans continuously towards interdependence and connection. Human cultures constantly adapt to take in the new. (Imagine Italians without their New World tomatoes, or Sioux chiefs without their Old World horses.)
“The terrorists dream of a pure, static world,” writes Brooks. “But the only thing static is death, which is why they are so pathologically drawn to death. Pluralism is about movement, interdependence, and life."
This is how cultures advance, in a constant dance to transform "us vs. them" to "we." This is the dance of being alive.
When we connect to the "other" with compassion and curiosity we create communion. I see you, you see me, and we see ourselves in each other.
We are the Wildcats!” declared the students of my home town, embracing the wearing of green and white on Homecoming Day. All of us, together.
I believe compassion drives out fear.
I believe connection drives out hate.
I believe identity is not a census category.
I believe diversity is the expression of life on earth.
I believe that there is enough to go around. Everyone can be free.
What do you believe? How are you living it?
Comment below and let me know. I would love to hear your story.
In peace and play,