We Can Be Better.
Reject fear. Embrace hope.
I am an engineer by disposition.
What this means is that I solve problems. When I see things that are broken, I try to fix them. This makes me terrible at commiserating — if you’ve ever come to tell me about a shitty day, you’ve probably gotten frustrated that instead of just saying, “Oh man, that sucks,” I’ll try and give you a million different ways to make your days not suck in the future. I can’t help it; that’s what I do.
So when I’m confronted with problems of the magnitude that we’ve been experiencing in the past week, the past month, the past year, I can’t help but try and find a solution.
And when I look at Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Dallas; when I look at the Orlando Massacre; when I look at Brexit; when I look at the ascendency of Trump… what I see is a problem. One problem — not many, unrelated issues, but a single, overarching, societal problem.
I was taught that, to tackle any large problem, you start by looking for a single point of failure. In any broken system there is usually one main issue, a fulcrum around which all other breaks and faults emanate.
So what is the one thing that you can trace these problems back to?
The problem is fear.
We are so afraid. We’re afraid of our neighbors. We’re afraid of the world. We’re afraid of people that don’t look like us, of people that don’t “share our values.”
We are afraid that the Orlando shooter was a radical Islamic terrorist, but it’s seeming more and more likely that the shooter was afraid of his own sexuality and lashed out at those he felt were responsible. Trump is ascendant because conservative voters have been told to be afraid of immigrants and terrorists since 9/11 and he says, “I’ll fix it. I’ll make it so that you don’t have to be afraid anymore.” Clinton rises as a candidate because those on the left are afraid that Trump might be president. The UK votes to leave the EU out of a campaign based around fear, crippling their future generations out of fear of immigrants.
The police officer that shoots an already subdued black man does it because they are afraid of black men. They patrol neighborhoods that they don’t live in, they’re given the responsibility for so many of society’s failings, and they’re trained that their only goal is to get home alive at the end of every day. How can you not see the world as a war zone when that’s your training? How can you not treat every interaction as life-or-death when that’s your training?
The NRA says every citizen should be armed because they should be afraid in a dangerous world, yet refuses to speak out about Philando Castile out of fear of alienating their base — how else can you explain such cognitive dissonance?
People hate what they fear, and kill what they hate.
And the movements that come out of this are purely reactionary. #BlackLivesMatter is a reactionary movement — a reaction to the reality that, in America, black lives don’t matter. And then #AllLivesMatter comes up as a reaction to #BlackLivesMatter because those whom the status quo benefits are afraid of being thought racist.
Trump is a reaction to the xenophobic fear mongering that the far, far right have been pushing for the last fifteen years. Only four years ago, a Trump presidency was a punchline; now, it’s a scandal or two away from reality.
For years we have been told to be afraid that the “other” is coming to destroy our way of life, to take everything we hold dear. We’re told to be afraid, and then we react to being afraid. So every action taken today is reactive: it’s base, animal, brain-stem reactive solutions to fear, and that is no way to make progress. We swore we would never let the terrorists win — so why do so many of us live in abject terror?
Because our media tells us to be afraid. Hell, we tell each other to be afraid. Every day we hear about another tragedy, another shooting, another disaster. And we hear that our government cannot — will not — do anything about it. And we have become so culturally despondent that we stopped believing any of it will ever change.
Here’s the thing: The only thing that counteracts fear is hope.
Hope is hard. It takes energy, it takes effort, it takes determination and willpower — it takes a lot to be hopeful.
Fear is easy. Being afraid is easy, even though living in fear is hard. Being hopeful is hard, but living with hope is the only way that we will even believe that things can be better.
We can be better.
Every one of us can be better. We can create a better society. We can write better laws. We can enact better training. We can listen better. We can come together better. We can’t just commiserate with the world — we can’t just continue to say, “Man, the world sucks doesn’t it” and get on with our day.
We can hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Instead of excusing police brutality as an inevitability, we can rightfully strive for a society where no citizen is afraid of the people sworn to protect them.
Instead of voting against a candidate we despise, we can vote for a candidate that represents us.
Instead of blaming the poor for poverty, we can strive for a society where no one need turn to crime just to afford the basic needs of life.
And we can be more empathetic. Empathy and understanding do not mean that you condone the actions of the people that you understand — but if you don’t understand them how can you change them? How can we help each other if we’re all stuck in our own echo chambers, not listening? How does change happen if we block somebody whose opinions we don’t like? How do we change their opinion? How do we have our opinions changed when they need changing if we don’t listen?
We have to reject false binarys. You can be pro-black and pro-police; pro-security and pro-muslim; pro-gay and pro-religion; fiscally conservative and socially liberal. These are all false divisions — real life doesn’t have heroes and villains, and society isn’t zero sum. There is no “us versus them”. There is only us.
Every single person, whether you agree with them or not, is someone doing what they believe is best. So we can’t just “agree to disagree.” Society only continues to move forward with consensus. We don’t need to continue being defined by the worst of us.
We can stand for something without standing against something.
So what now?
We have a responsibilty to be the change we want to see. We have been fed a narrative of fear and apathy for so long we’ve started to believe it. The overwhelming majority of Americans have little to no faith in our government. Most of the people don’t believe their vote matters, even though events like Brexit show that even a small fraction of voters can have a seismic impact — for better and worse.
But there is so much we can do to push our society forward. We can demand more of our media — the fear-mongering and click-bait articles are driven entirely by revenue. We don’t have to click. We don’t have to share. It’s the media’s responsibility to keep us well informed, and it’s our responsibility to remind them of that.
We can join the police force and affect change from the inside. We can demand more comprehensive de-escalation training for our police — not to hamper them, but to help them protect us and themselves.
We can contact our representatives — they are beholden to us, because no matter how much money pours into government, we are the ones who keep them in power. We can push to make Election Day a national holiday, to maximize our country’s representation. We can run for office ourselves if we’ve lost faith in those we’ve elected.
And yes — we can vote.
Protest, yes. Join a demonstration, absolutely. Protests and demonstrations are an amazing way to start the conversation. And there’s immense value in starting the conversation. But we have been starting conversations for decades. #BlackLivesMatter started the conversation on police brutality two years ago and they’re still trying to start it today. Every time there is a mass shooting, we try to start the conversation on gun control. When a terrorist attack happens we start the conversation on immigration.
I am no longer content to start the conversation. It’s time for us to finish conversations.
But in order to do any of this, we have to believe we can make difference.
They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.
The second step is believing you can fix it.