The bombast, buzz words, and simplistic rhetoric…

…that trivializes everything.

Every person who died in the Pulse shootings in Orlando was part of a network of friends, lovers, parents, siblings, coworkers, neighbors—and every one of those people now faces silence and absence where they once had the company of someone they loved or worked alongside.

That is the most important thing about what happened in Orlando early Sunday morning. A lot of arms are no longer able to hold someone precious, and a lot of minds are trying to grasp how it’s possible that something so staggering could happen.

I have no idea what it’s like to lose someone you love in such a horrific way. But my guess is I’d like real answers, carefully investigated information, and effective solutions. Not campaign histrionics and vitriol.

Maybe a measure of our presidential candidates should include their capacity to be respectful and insightful? Just a thought.

What we talk about when we talk about other people. Part I

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Like most people, I only really know what it’s like to be me. Let’s start there.

In my case that means a multiple-ethnicity American who most take for Anglo or white.

An uncomfortable thing about that has been the ease some Anglo-white people seem to feel in expressing anti-whoever is not-like-me points of view, as though I would, naturally, agree.A540 037 square crop

The first time this happened my internal reaction was: what is it about me that makes you think I feel that way? I was amazed at how much certainty they had about who I was and what my opinions were, despite knowing absolutely nothing but my appearance.

Unable to be quiet about it, I looked for ways to counter these mistaken assumptions about my point of view without getting confrontational about it.004 1-31-15 square crop To a woman who complained about “all these foreigners” who had altered the no-longer predominantly white culture of L.A., I smiled and said “But that’s the best part about being in L.A, all the people who have come here from across the globe.”

The point is we categorize others and assume we know who they are based on how they look—to us. It’s our shorthand way of moving through the world and quickly identifying who and what is in our environment.15 Jan 2010 pm 012 square crop

We are walking taxonomies of other people’s natures, except here’s what I think: I think the information most of us have filed away under these headings is not based on careful observation of other people but on careful documentation of our reactions to them. The problem is there is a world of difference between the two.

Kindness and Distance

In 2014 the British government stated it would not support the rescue efforts escalating in step with the pace of refugees who fled across the Mediterranean, an escape route that too often resulted in capsizings and deaths. There was some accompanying media commentary decrying the impending influx and calling for the European continent to prevent any spillover across the channel.

Meanwhile, in Italy, the country whose shores were often the first to receive refugees, the focus was on efforts to accommodate and to help.

Whatever the cultural differences between Italy and Britain, I’m certain the much stronger influence in these two reactions was that Italians saw individual refugees in all their desperate humanity and felt compelled to provide aid. The British government was responding from a much greater distance. At that time they had predominantly encountered only images and stories of boats filled with people.

In the spring of 2015, a professor at Coventry University (in Britain) whose specialty is international migration, pointed out that it was in the areas with the least number of people who had migrated from elsewhere that attitudes were the most hostile.

There is a lesson in this for all of us.

What is the first thing we do when we want to dismiss someone or cut them down to size? We distance ourselves from them. We focus on the ways they are different from us, or we simply pretend they are different. We create a them vs us narrative. Anyone who’s been through high school in the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere but I only know the U.S.) knows all about this phenomenon.

The problem with all of our them vs. us narratives is that they are so out of sync with reality.

Even at the level of DNA, we are all very much alike. Sure, we are Buddhists, baptists, agnostic or ambivalent; we have skin and hair color from across the human spectrum; we’re teachers, artists, coders, attorneys; live in cabins, studios, houses, our cars. Those differences may influence who we hang out with but they have nothing to do with who should have a seat at the community table and share the feast or take part in the debate. It’s pretty hard for any community to make forward progress when each faction is pulling away from all the others.

So next time we’re tempted to sound off at or about someone, and we all will be at some point, we need to stop for a second. Look whoever it is in the eyeor if the contact is digital, give the situation an equivalent evaluationand ask ourselves if we don’t see a little bit of someone we know in there.