I have no opinion about what happened in Orlando. I chose to have no opinion.
Another shooting. Another senseless tragedy that just makes me roll my eyes, and say come on Team Human. Get your sh!t together. It’s kind of embarrassing.
The Orlando mass shooting is the worst single-handed shooting in history. And it lands in an usual place where it seems to touch everyone, while being kind of unclear what it is actually about. Is it organised terror, or is it a lone nut-job. Does it point to the need for more gun control, or less? Is it homophobia, or religious hate?
It seems it depends on what barrow your pushing. And in that way it was unique – it ha something for everybody. It gave every op-ed writer in the country, no matter where they sat, the confirmation they were looking for that they were actually right all along.
It was all kind of exhausting.
As someone regularly writes op-eds, I know the value of opinions.
It’s not much.
Opinions are easy. They’re cheap. Everyone’s got one.
For me to dip into my head and throw some ideas at a laptop is easy. It’s not real work. There’s a bit of labour involved in shaping the ideas into coherent narratives. But sometimes I’m just rehashing conversations I had with my wife over breakfast.
But I know what I know. And to sprout off about what I know is easy. It’s fun even. I mean, I do genuinely hope people find it interesting and get some value out of it, but I don’t pretend that my opinions are the same thing as knowledge or wisdom.
They’re just a perspective. And I’ve got some big ideas, but I don’t pretend to have answers. I’m just a confused monkey like everyone else.
But there is a wisdom and a knowledge that is valuable and real. And it’s not opinion, but empathy.
Empathy is the wisdom that comes from sharing someone’s felt experience. From seeing the world through their eyes.
And empathy isn’t easy. It asks you to step out of your own bubble of self-interest, and to experience what other people are feeling.
It asks you to let go of the structures of understanding you’ve built to make your way in the world, and to see the world through someone else’s eyes. To walk a mental mile in their shoes.
And in doing that, it asks you to step out of the boxes of identity that divide us up, and into that space where race, religion and political views don’t matter, and the things we have in common are more powerful than our differences.
Empathy brings us back into our shared humanity. And in that sense, empathy is the mother of peace.
But what’s holding us back? What’s stopping us from living out this vision of people all sitting around together, offering each other sweetened spiced tea and back rubs?
Our identities – our sense of who we are – are a tool we use to navigate a complex world. We see ourselves as such and such a person, with these views and these tribal affiliations.
These things aren’t easy to let go of. When we drop them, we become lost in the world again. The moral rules of thumb that come from our tribal affiliations don’t guide us anymore. When we come up against an issue, we can’t fall back on our prejudices. We’ve got to start over fresh.
In that sense, it’s scary, and most people will cling to the stories they’ve always told about themselves – the identities they’ve spent a lifetime creating. And with that they’re locked out of empathising with “others”.
(And since this is a wealth blog, can I also say that this is one of the best reasons for sorting yourself out financially. When you feel more secure in the world, you’re more able let go of your paradigms of understanding and become lost in the world again. When you feel more secure, you can be more empathetic. You can become a more powerful force for peace.)
Anyway, long story short, empathy is hard. It requires you to come back to the clean-slate of a shared-humanity, and to do that, you’ve got to get past fear.
But empathy, unlike opinion, is deeply valuable. Empathy is real knowledge and it opens the door to peace and gentle back rubs.
And so today, I’ve got no opinions. Rather, I’m going to let myself feel into empathy.
And so I empathise with victims of violence the world over. The challenges of lack were all sorted out last century and there’s no reason anyone should suffer any more (if there ever was one). Can everyone please just get with the program?
Everyone who’s still connected to their humanity finds this endless theatre of senseless suffering exhausting.
And I emphasise with the Queer community. It must be harrowing to know that you can be attacked just for who you are. And at a time when it feels like the last structures of prejudice are finally being dismantled, this attack must be dis-spiriting.
I also empathise with Muslims who are endeavouring to show that Islam has a place in peaceful and egalitarian societies. One nutter with no deep connection to the essence of the Muslim faith has done a lot of damage to that cause.
(That said, so did the Pakistani Council of Islamic Ideology, which this week proposed a bill that “a husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.” Seriously guys, give it up.)
At the end of the day, I’m going to come back to empathy. I’m going to resist the temptation to fortify the boxes of division that pit my “us” against their “them.” I’m not going to give in to fear.
Rather, I’m going to remember that we’re all confused monkeys doing the best we can. We all hurt. We all feel loss. We all love.
So no opinions from me today. I’m joining with those feeling the weight of the world. It feels like all I can really offer.
Anyone need a back rub?