Less “Me” More “We”
In 2017, my family came all too close to losing my sister in the worst mass shooting in history. It’s been a few months, and the story is easier to tell, but that reality will never go away. For me personally, the impact has been twofold. First, I have a fairly constant pit in my stomach related to what happened and how little has been done to try to decrease the likelihood of events like what happened in Las Vegas. With that, I find myself constantly imagining giving impassioned speeches to elected officials who have the power to create and pass legislation to protect American citizens, but continue to fail to act. It’s bizarre. My mind has little room these days for thoughts about anything other than what happened and how I can help prevent the next one from happening. The second big result of all that has happened is that my “empathy meter” as I’m calling it has been maxed out. I like to think I’ve always been a pretty empathetic person, but I’m also well aware of how easy it is to slip into an egocentric, self-pitying mentality. What I’ve realized is that I’m ultimately going to be just fine. Too many others cannot say the same, and that’s what is driving my approach to 2018.
America seems to have an enormous empathy deficit. I do believe empathy can be learned, but I fear it might take extreme stress for some people to truly understand what people unlike them go through on a daily basis. I’ve long believed our nation has had a terrible approach to how we legislate firearms, but it wasn’t until my sister was shot that I felt so strongly compelled to do more than just shake my fist whenever something horrible happened. As a result, I know EXACTLY how it feels to come so close to losing a loved one and no longer have to try to put myself in the shoes of families impacted by gun violence.
Here’s what I’m getting at: I think we all could grow an awful lot as individuals if we stopped being so terribly concerned with our own day to day lives and put forth true effort to understand that we have it pretty damn good compared to so many others. I truly believe that I’m one of the most privileged people walking the planet. I’m a straight white male in America! Who has it better than me? I’m not rich. I have plenty of minor concerns, and some that feel major to me until I recognize that my biggest problems are easier for me to solve than just about anyone on earth. I will never fear for my life during a routine traffic stop. I’ll never be called a terrorist. I’ll never be paid significantly less for the same work. I’ll never be refused a wedding cake. I’ll never be told what I can and cannot do with my body by members of the opposite sex. I’ll never be mocked or persecuted because of my gender identity. There is not a single societal issue that negatively impacts my life. Pretty incredible, right?
“Love thy neighbor” didn’t come with a bunch of qualifiers. It’s not “love thy neighbor, unless said neighbor is gay, Muslim, African American, Hispanic, transgender, uhhhhh poor, um a uh uh woman, hmmm what else what else?” We aren’t born with the notion that any one group of people is inherently better than another; that’s learned. My challenge to anyone reading this is to try, like REALLY try, to imagine what it would be like to be any of the numerous people who experience injustices simply because of things outside their control. It’s more than a “that sucks” kind of thing. Feel it, to the best of your ability. That’s empathy.
Empathy can be almost burdensome. Many of us will never experience significant mistreatment due to factors beyond our control, which is great. But I truly believe that those of us in positions of privilege have a duty to help those who cannot help themselves. My sister being shot was the most tragic and terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. My mission now is to do everything I can to keep other families from going through something so painful. My mission is to honor those who have lost their lives to gun violence. And my greater mission is to use my voice, my connections, my means on behalf of those less fortunate than myself. I’m intimately connected to gun violence. I’m also acutely aware of people struggling with things I can only attempt to comprehend. The least I can do is try to make a difference and help those who need it.
I’m not trying to be the morality police, or make anyone feel bad about their own life situation. I’m simply asking that we all take a look in the mirror and decide what kind of world we want to leave for the next generation. That first bit of introspection should be whether or not you care about the plight of others. If you do truly think others are below you because of any of the above factors, a good thing may be to really analyze why. You’ll likely find those beliefs have no basis in reality. If you find yourself so compelled, please join me. I mean that. Reach out to me. Let’s brainstorm. Change requires a lot of people working toward a common goal, and I certainly can’t do this alone. As we ring in a new year, we have a great opportunity to do good. It won’t be easy, but I promise it will be rewarding.