Learning from Orlando: Transforming a Culture of Violence
The Orlando killings made news around the world, and the response has been heartening. From Paris to Sweden, Philadelphia to California, people care and are responding. Each person, group and community is seeking a way to heal, understand and react to foster strength, hope and peace. Is there peace to find? Or should we open our eyes to the reality of what’s been long buried and tolerated, bursting through the surface to challenge our complacency and easy acceptance of violence as an everyday occurrence?
To engage in violence is a choice. Physical violence is the outward expression of what we feel internally, but it is not the only form of violence. Emotional and social violence is enacted against humans everyday. We use words to denigrate, demoralize and subjugate. We use policy and laws to segregate, isolate and exclude. We could choose to use our personal, positional and group power to create inclusiveness and acceptance. Instead, we humans repeatedly choose to enact our disagreement, disapproval, distrust and fear against those who are least like us. We may choose tolerance as the middle ground, but tolerance only allows us to endure what we do not like or want. The world needs more than tolerance.
What causes an individual to decide that violence against another person is the answer to what they are feeling?
Often, we want to understand the cause of violence. We endeavor to seek answers that will allay our own fears and eliminate the threat of violence finding its way to our doorstep, shattering our lives and destroying our dreams. Violence has always been present with us. It is not a new phenomenon. Some people, groups, and communities experience violence at higher rates than others. This also is not new. As much as violence is constant, the ability to remove or mitigate violence from our midst still seems out of reach because we fail to own that the propensity for violence lies within the reach of every person — and country.
To understand the cause of violence, we must first examine ourselves.
Violence is not limited to certain types of people or to specific groups, and it doesn’t lend itself as the lonely bedfellow to those with specific religious belief systems. Violence, at its heart, is a personal choice. When the use of violence is collectively agreed upon as the mechanism necessary to achieve an end goal, it becomes the brutal reality of change that cannot be reversed. A collective acceptance of violence as a natural and accepted form of interpersonal engagement has set the foundation for the individual and group acts of violence we see, hear and experience. Our words do matter; they set the tone for our actions. Our thoughts are powerful; they generate the content necessary for the formation of our spoken positions and values.
Orlando didn’t happen in a vacuum. It is not the first and I suspect it won’t be the last mass killing we experience. Fear has become the unnamed protagonist for how we engage with those who are different. Orlando is here. Orlando is in each of our homes, communities, cities and countries. Orlando is in our courtrooms, classrooms, boardrooms and staff meetings. Orlando is here because you and I are here and we are human.
The killing in Orlando did not begin on Sunday. It started long before the shooter was even born. Take a look at the dialogue on social media. Reflect on who and what is being demonized and why. Will we foster an air of reflection and responsibility as a country or will we find ways even in our collective grief to foster more divisiveness, anger and hatred?
I believe we can mitigate acts of violence by transforming our own culture of violence, but the cost of transformation will be heavy. Those, who create mass stereotypes to enact discriminatory policies and laws and foster fear through the use of overt and coded messages and images, will need to see the world differently and desire an outcome for the betterment of everyone instead of a select few. Until then, we can blame others, hope that violence does not find its way into our lives, and continue to live in unspoken fear. #WeAreOrlando — and change is up to us.