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Clean Machine
Jun. 22, 2016 #35-173 a2z
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In tragedy's wake, reject hate, pursue empathy

Scott T. Holland
scotth@mywebtimes.com

No one gets through life unscathed. All of us suffer some sort of loss or heartbreak, ranging from simple misfortune to unspeakable tragedy.

Not every day, of course. Very rarely, most likely. But we all know pain, and each of us reacts differently to the situations life presents. So when one person or group is especially wounded, it is appropriate to offer not just sympathy, but to attempt empathy. To be more than sorry for their suffering, but also try to understand exactly what they might be thinking and feeling as they struggle to cope.

Tracking this course need not diminish the suffering of others, nor the pain we feel when it’s our inevitable turn to wallow in the depths. It’s just a means of trying to be a good person.

As a parent, it’s a lesson I try to impart almost daily, asking whichever brother is the aggressor at the moment to consider their own ample experience as the put-upon party. Kids being kids, these requests often fall on deaf ears. But I keep asking, hoping some lesson might stick.

Yet in the wake of the horrific June 12 attack at that Orlando nightclub, I shrunk, offering neither sympathy or empathy. Rather than reach out, I turned inward, surrounding myself with the busyness of daily life as a husband and father. I carried in my heart the names and faces of people whom I knew were worn weary with the heavy emotions of this attack on their community. I didn’t know what to say or do, and so I chose to hide.

All these days later I still don’t have a clue, or a sense my own words or thoughts might be sufficient. But I did happen upon the deeply thoughtful writing of a high school friend, and with his permission I share a few passages in hopes of shedding light on a corner I would never reach on my own. He said:

“It is amazing the amount of fear and anxiety the closeted feel. Being closeted is enough to strangle the life out of someone who could otherwise have so much to offer. I was blessed to have a strong moral compass and upbringing with humanitarian values. It allowed me the ability to find my own independence and life skills and gave me the courage to survive life independently at the age of 22. I could live my life even if everyone I knew turned against me when I was exposed for who I love. ...

“At our most basic level I believe we all seek to have our identity validated. We all have a varied path to how we got to where we are today. I think it is safest to say we are healthiest when we successfully find that safe zone and place of validation. To some it is on the sports court, many may find it gaming with virtual friends around the world. Others secure validation in the boardroom, on a canvas, catering and caring for loved ones and some in a religious institution or night clubs and bars. Wherever we are, we must protect that safe environment. ...

“The tragic events this weekend remind me I should never take for granted the hard work I have put forth to secure my safe zone and those individuals in it. ...

“We all have a path to find that personal validation. If you haven't found yours, I am a safe place for you to find it. Finding that place shouldn't be on a path where one is bullied or hated on for what they believe or who they love. Unfortunately lives are taken or cut short before or as they find that place. I believe I am one of the lucky ones who knows their identity and are validated by the ones most important in my life. ...

“I love you all and we must not let hate break us. I stand with Orlando and all others who are still in pursuit of their identity validation.”

You don’t have to know him for those words to resonate. I’m honored he let me try to use this space to amplify his message.

I’ve had many thoughts about angry rhetoric that gives rise to hate and breeds violence. It’s undoubtedly dangerous, and we have seen its effects time and again, But for today, I seek to return that anger with peace.

Seek the struggling. Strive to understand. Work to heal. We must not let hate break us.

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