The events of the past week have been horrific, both in Kentucky and nationally: the pipe bombs, the Kroger killings, the synagogue mass shooting. As I have reflected on them over the weekend, in the midst of the swirl of both accusations and calls for “unity,” it seems to me that there are four things we should all do:
Sit with the grieving in their grief. Before anything else, we must grieve along with those who have lost loved ones. In older times, it was common for neighbors to come to the house and sit with the grieving, to share in the pain and acknowledge our common humanity. They did not turn away from the emotional pain of grief; instead, they experienced it alongside the grieving.
While most of us cannot physically go to the side of those who are grieving from these latest crimes of hate, we can share in their grief as a nation. We can refuse to turn away, and instead sit with them in their grief, as the neighbors we are or should be.
Check our own words and actions for Othering. There is a hugely important difference between saying that the actions of another are unacceptable, and saying that person or those persons are unacceptable. Classifying a person or a group of people as The Other is the first step on the road to what we are seeing now: identify a class of people, continually attack them as bad simply for being a member of that class, and finally indicate that violence against them would be justified.
At Forward Kentucky, we regularly call out people for their actions. I try very hard, though, to prevent our commentary from devolving into Othering. It is difficult, because it is now so common, in all parts of our life. Nevertheless, it is a line that we all have to be aware of, and pull back from.
Find a way to reach across divisions. Our political system is more polarized than it has been since at least the 1930s, and possibly since the Civil War. Somehow, we have to find ways to bridge that gap, both privately and publicly. Of course, both sides have to want to bridge it – and doing so during an election season is probably unlikely. Perhaps after the midterms, though, we can all look for ways to at least dialogue, and maybe even find common ground on some things.
Call out actions and messages that foster hate. If we are going to change the culture, to change the political and social environment, we have to hold each other accountable for our words and actions. And it can’t be just to score political points; it has to come from a shared devotion to building community even in the midst of robust dialogue.
Let me close by saying that in the face of the emotions and forces striving for dominance in our country, I sometimes feel powerless. And after the events of the past week (and the past few years), mere words seem unworthy of the moment.
And yet, we each must do what we can to protect both our democracy and our community, local and national. As much as we may feel that we are shouting into the wind, we still must speak, because our message is vital. And who knows? Perhaps a single voice can reach a single ear and change a single heart, and change can begin.
I, for one, will keep trying to make a difference through Forward Kentucky. We are not the only voice, of course, nor even a particularly loud one – but we are still a voice, and a needed one.
Let us, then, first grieve with those who are grieving; then recommit ourselves to being community together, no matter our differences. Let us find a way to disagree, and even call each other out, without falling into Othering. And when messages of hate are put forth, let us challenge them for what they are, and make it plain that hate and its words and actions are unacceptable.