For a month now, I’ve followed news of every shooting, every bombing, every massacre since Orlando. In total, hundreds of people are dead. Hundreds more have been injured. People are dying all over the world.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any grand insights. I can’t wave a magic wand and make all of this go away.
This week, I’ve been rereading Tokyo Babylon by the Japanese mangaka (a group of writers and artists who create Japanese comic) CLAMP. It’s a series that found me at just the right age of adolescence, and it’s shaped me in more ways than I’d care to admit.
At the heart of this story is the idea that no one can ever truly understand another person’s pain: that every single one of us is human, that to be human is to have our hearts broken, and that each of us experiences the world—and our pain—in our own way. Even if our circumstances are similar, our pain is our own.
And yet because we each carry our own pain, we can share empathy with others. We can support them in their struggles and offer comfort in their pain. We may never truly understand how they feel, but we can hold them in loving-kindness.
As usual, words fail me. If I were one for slogans, I’d offer a string of hashtags like “queer lives matter,” “trans lives matter,” “Latinx lives matter,” “Arab/Syrian/Iraqi/Turkish/Indian/Kashmiri/South Sudanese lives matter,” and of course, Black Lives Matter. All of these slogans are true.
And I guess why I can’t share my friends’ outrage at the phrase “all lives matter” is that, while I agree it misses the point (my favorite takedown of this is the meme that says, “Yes, all lives matter, but we’re focused on the black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our justice system doesn’t know that.” [I won’t pull statistics here, but the raw data does back up that statement]), I can understand—and empathize with—the desire to scream “All lives matter! Human lives matter! Too many people have died.”
Especially this summer.
Because a lot of people are hurting right now.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says to the crowd gathered at the mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Now, Jesus was speaking to a particular context, but the point stands: no one is perfect. We’ve all fallen short at one time or another. We all have our own shortcomings, our own regrets, our own shame. We all have our own pain to bear.
Even if you’re not religious or if you’re religious but not Christian, there is wisdom here. Who are you to judge someone else? Who are you to condemn them for their pain? Who are you to say that your pain is deeper and that they should just get over it? For that way lies the Oppression Olympics: the endless competition to garner the most pity for oneself or one’s group. And that’s a game that no one can win.
I guess what I’m getting at is that a lot of people are hurting right now. A lot of people are looking for answers. Or justice. Or change. Or hope. And there just aren’t very many clear answers out there right now. There aren’t ways to heal the world overnight.
And it’s not just minority groups or victims of violence: every single person on this planet has felt loss or sadness or fear or depression or anxiety or grief or injury (or if they haven’t yet, they will). We all have our own scars. We all feel our own pain.
So if you take nothing else from this post, if you take nothing else from the endless march of bad news this summer, let it be this: treat your neighbors with kindness. Treat strangers with kindness. Treat even the people who oppose you with kindness.
Because you can never truly understand the pain they may feel.