This is a repost from a really long Facebook status I wrote after going to bed with the news of the Nice terrorist attack in France. I don’t usually do those long-form statuses, but something kind of gave way in me, and I’ve been really surprised and humbled by how much it resonated with others. So I’m posting it here, in case it helps anyone else feel more empowered to do good, big and small, in the face of tragedy.
About a decade ago I had this funny philosophy. “There are no bad people in the world,” I would insist. “Everyone is just out there, trying to be happy. They might screw up but really the intention is to just live their own life. And if they really suck- I can just tell them they don’t exist!” Snappy punchline.
It’s hard to reconcile that there are people out there whose concerns are broader than their own lives, whose happiness, they have decided, depends on what other people do- who they marry, what religion they practice, if they live or die. I can only amend my philosophy to this…the only “bad” people are unhappy ones. They don’t have loving families, backyard barbecues, nieces and nephews to dote on. They don’t have stability or shelter or confidence in their own future. They don’t have friends that cook weird vegetables or throw birthday parties for cats or share Pins with them. In a way it is banal, but as evil can be, so can happiness- small joys, that slow us down, that make us rethink drastic measures.
To admit these things are lacking in your own life is almost like admitting failure as a human being, and who wants to do that? So when you are adrift and witness to happiness that others have, it must seem like the only action you can take is to lash out, to declare yourself right and worthy, that that alien happiness of the Other was gained falsely. You recast yourself as someone who sets the balance straight again. Fulfillment comes via the Others’ misery.
So there’s been another terrorist attack, and I lie awake wondering about the world, so large and so twined by black mirrors and optic cables, and I feel small and worried and confused. What can I do, to make violence stop? I’ve studied how to make spaces dual purpose and how to place residential services near transit. I am pretty good at foosball and terrible at cooking. How is anything I do going to matter? And the truth is, I probably can’t do anything today that will stop any kind of attack tomorrow. I am not a security analyst. I struggle to open jars sometimes.
But I can do something that makes the world better, one day. It’s call an old friend to see how they are. It’s to offer a seat to a stranger on the bus. It’s talking to the awkward person at a party and donating crayons to a school. If the belief is that a bad person is formed in isolation and out of want, then we need to reach out to people and be willing to make friends with groups we’ve never known before. Maybe when fewer people are hungry, when they have more friends of all kinds of skin color and religion, maybe when people feel connected to their library or to a park or to the really old dog that walks by every day, they won’t feel empty. And the effects of that are small, but cumulative, I think.
I will try to be a better friend and person. I will try to find commonalities with people that I disagree with. I will try to push the borders of who I know and what they look like. I will try to be more open. Living life well and trying to share that with others is my best antidote. I hope this is something we all can do, even through loss.