My Voices of Nonviolence class continues to be poignant and relevant, mainly for the sad reality that violence continues to happen. Today as we discussed Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, we also learned of another mass shooting, the second one today. In my anger and hurt at today’s news, at a time when I feel like I can’t take any more bad news in the world, I began thinking of how to understand the suffering of both sides, and wrote my own version of his famous poem.
Hearing Both Sides
I am the child who went to school today. I am the adult with autism who went to a job skills class. I am the office manager who went to work for the day. I am the victim, the dead, the person who won’t come home tonight.
And I am the mass shooter. I am shunned and ignored, belittled and shamed, until my rage emerges. I am unstable and misguided, thinking my actions are necessary, and I don’t yet know the fullness of love.
I am the teacher who is learning emergency drills for how to shelter my students when the tragedy strikes my school. And I am the social worker, who chose a sacrificial career to help adults with disabilities find a better life, never expecting those lives would be threatened in my center of safety and care.
I am the police officer, the SWAT team, who has been trained carefully to manage my weapon, who regretfully must use it to eliminate the threat to my community.
I am the reporter, who can’t find new words to tell a story that’s already been told over 300 times this year. And I am the politician, who voted down gun control laws, trying to accurately represent my district and be faithful to my constituents, many of whom own gun related businesses.
I am the activist, who decries the accessibility of weapons and the power of lobbyists to keep it that way. And I am the NRA, who represents millions of Americans and is trying to defend a way of life protected in the U.S. Constitution.
I am the gun-owner, who is continuing a family legacy of hunting and feels threatened by these political conversations. I am the woman who lives alone, keeping a handgun in the bedside drawer because there have been multiple break-ins, burglaries, and assaults on my street and I can’t sleep at night feeling unprotected. I am the man who utilizes open carry laws, so I can be ready to stop an attack when it happens near me.
I am the citizen, who watches each unfolding story and wonders when it will happen in my community. I am the friend, who waits eagerly for an update and prays she doesn’t recognize the names of the dead. I am the pastor, who must bring a word of peace again, and again, and again, and again.
I am the Muslim man, who gets labeled a terrorist. I am the Black man, who gets labeled a thug. I am the White man, who gets labeled a lone wolf.
I am the parent who received a tragic call today, who has given all my energy toward protecting my child from harm and couldn’t extend that power far enough. And I am the parent, who realized with the news today that the child I tried to raise with love has acted with violence and hatred to take the lives of others.
Thich Nhat Hanh challenges each of us to listen to both sides, to understand the suffering of all people. Written in 1986, this quote still carries so much power:
“The situation of the world is still like this. People completely identify with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of a citizen of the Soviet Union, we have to become one with him or her. To do so is dangerous - we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don't do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.”
This practice, personally, was fruitful and challenging...particularly as I realized I still wanted to put my own spin on “the other side” and their perspective. I still want to think I am right. I still want to condemn gun violence and advocate for more gun control. Still, to work toward reconciliation, I must listen, I must pay attention to every side. I can condemn the violence and still be listening.