Our Words Fail Us, and We Fail Each Other

“War is what happens when language fails.”

— Margaret Atwood

We all fight with someone, even the people we love the most. We fought all the time, nearly daily for some, but it’s rare we reach for physical violence to get our point across. It is common to reach for emotional savagery at the slightest threat to our self-image, our way of thinking, or our sense of control. Real or perceived we are quick to hate, to degrade, and to cut off people around us for the smallest transgression because we have lost the ability to really tell one another how we feel, and to really listen to the feelings of another.

We’ve all utilized violence at some point on siblings or schoolmates. Some have hit their children or had to fight a stranger. Worse are those who have struck a spouse, a parent, an animal. I’ve seen it all and done my fair share too. I have been hurt and hurt others. I have had my sense of safety taken away, and I have felt pride in taking it from others. But I hate that version of me that was so stupid and so weak as to think there was any reason to feel pride in such brutality. I hope to never act so brutish again unless I have to use force to save my life or the life of someone I know.

I’ve come to see violence as something to only be used as a last resort and only when violence is first used on me. I now believe that there is no end to the ways a conflict can be resolved as long as both parties want to. Growth has made me sensitive to the ways I see communication break down around me and the way people have come to see physical violence as the second step after verbal violence is utilized as the first.

Violence is an instinct. Little kids do it and have to be taught not to do it. It is also a learned behavior too. The more they see other people doing it, the more we do it, of course, but I’ve seen babies not yet walking and not yet witness to assault hitting and throwing things out of frustration when they feel their needs have not adequately been communicated.

I work with children in a space that isn’t home and isn’t school, and in this place, they are a little freer, a little more themselves, for good and for ill. I find that at any slight correction, challenge, or frustration they fail to communicate their feelings and instead head right for violence, first verbal and then physical.

I have to slow them down. I work hard to teach them that there are other things to try first. I tell them they can talk to me, tell me how they feel, and I will never punish them for that. I do it because I understand they are being raised the same way I was, to believe that any show of emotion or expression of need is a sign of disrespect. Their feelings are being forced in, and their ability to communicate is decaying from non-use.

As a result, they have no idea how to simply say they are unhappy, that they don’t understand, that they are frustrated or hurt, or to ask for space or time to process what is happening around or inside themselves. They don’t know how to say what they need, and they have no desire to hear what other people need either.

They only know what they have been taught— that respect and understanding come after you have forced it from someone. They have been taught that there is only one right and one wrong and that the one who is right is the one who hits harder.

As we get older, we gain some control, or at least we learn who we can’t hit and who we can. We still don’t know how to talk, and we still don’t know how to understand though.

That’s not to say we are all violent people. No one wants to start there. No one wants to yell, humiliate, or hurt, we do it when we feel we have no other choice and that place is different for us all but none of us have the strength or patience we might have if we’d worked at communication or seen proper examples of it. All of us has given up on someone, some of us have given up on whole groups of people we will never meet because we are convinced that they are incapable of understanding us and us, them.

But there is always a point, and there is always a way, it’s just hard to do, that’s all. Language is a poor way to describe all the complexity and shades of meaning and feeling that exist inside of a human being, but as long as we are each trapped inside of our own perspective and consciousness, barred from the minds of one another, we have to use what we have, our words.

To listen is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy, emotional and intellectual, to hold your own mind back, to trust enough to let your defense down and listen to another. It’s even harder to be vulnerable and ask someone to expend such energy on you. We try once, twice, and the third time we’re done not seeing that the first time we sounded frustrated, the second time we yelled, and the third we used insults and threats. There was never real communication. I see this every day.

No one learns how to communicate rigorously.

No one learns to consider that they are wrong.

No one believes there is honor or pride in giving time and consideration to needs, ideas, or ways of living of others.

The effect is worse in groups and worst of all in nations. Too often violence can seem like the only course of action to take, not last but at all. We work ourselves into a frenzy declaring that our way of life our thinking or land must be defended at all costs. We are right, and they are wrong, and words will do nothing. There is nothing to say to “those people,” they wouldn’t understand if we tried and we will not allow ourselves to be infected, manipulated, deterred, or distracted from our aim. EQUALITY, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, PEACE! Worthy causes to die for, but to kill for?

Maybe. I won’t say I believe that there is no place for violence. Sure, there are wars worth fighting. There are people who can only be saved if someone else was to die, but I don’t see those kinds of wars being fought. What I see when I watch the news is wars being fought that might be solved with listening and an exchange of ideas and empathy, and I see wars not being fought where genocide, mass rape, and the exploitation of children has been taking place for generations.

What I see is nations acting like people, fighting for respect and control and not for equality, freedom, justice, and peace.

What I see is here at home a divide furthering between ideologies because talking is exhausting and listening is just too hard. I see people who are sure they are right, that there is no other way to see it, and that communication is no road to resolution. I see tension building and a canyon-sized divide between the purity of each sides way of seeing the world. No one is willing to build a bridge. The bridge builders of the past are disillusioned, and the would-be builders can only see what the other side won’t do.

So, violence is quickly becoming all that is left because we’ve not built the strength nor the desire to keep trying, again, and again, and again.

We’ve not been raised to believe that people can come around by words alone. We’ve not been raised to believe there is a middle ground in that canyon separating us from one another. We’ve not been raised to understand that people are mysterious and complex and in need of love and understanding the same as us. We have not been raised to see each other as equals only as beings to dominate, manipulate, and use for our own emotional ends. We’ve not been taught that words will get us what we need.

The average person isn’t out there beating people up and humiliating them, but we are internalizing and perpetuating the same way of looking at the world and thinking about one another that leads to violence on more massive scales. We are protecting and excusing the violence that breaks out on individual levels seeing it through our own upbringing and justifying the pettiest reasons.

I just want to see us all try another way and try a little harder.

Try being patient. Try being quiet. Try being open, sympathetic, and kind.

Work the muscles in the mind that express and understand. Learn how to use your words and learn the meaning of words that other people use. Consider that you might be a little wrong and that the people you have written off might be a little right. Not just the people you know, but people half a world away too. Think about what war is and what it’s cost is worth. Teach your kids to do the same and teach your loved ones through their interaction with you. Take the time communicate. I promise it is no waste.

I’m talking to all of you, myself included. I am talking to all sides of the issue those who have never listened and those who have tried listening so much they’ve given up hope that it works. I’m talking to you.

I’m talking to us here and now and to everyone in the future because if we don’t learn to sharpen and strengthen language, make it better and make it work nothing will change.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo is by Georgia National Guard from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Advertisements

Short and Sweet Reviews // Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”

― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Catch-22, first published in 1953, is a satirical novel set during World War II. In it, we meet Yossarian a U.S. Army bombardier desperately trying to finish his required number of missions so he can get back home. We see the war from his viewpoint, and the viewpoint of the other men in his squadron as they try to survive and makes sense of the war.

I’ll be honest; I had a hard time with this book.

Every character is insane. The timeline is nearly impossible to follow. I couldn’t keep the characters or rank straight. The dialog was often circular and frustrating. There was a ton of death and violence and more prostitutes than are ever necessary for any story. Through most of it, I couldn’t even figure out what the damn point was.

Then, somewhere in the middle, I realized that was the point!

After that I loved it. It was an awful story written in the most brilliant way.  It’s not just about how horrible war is. It is about the mental hoops we have to jump through to justify and survive a war. How we can keep waging it when we know the value of human life. It makes the connection between war and our collective insanity.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Reading this book wasn’t easy, but sometimes when something isn’t easy, it makes it all the more satisfying when you do accomplish it. Catch-22 made me think about war in a different way. It made me think about the pressure we place on soldiers to deny their most basic instinct, self-preservation. Is it right to do that? Who has the right to do that? And for how long do we ask people to live in a state of fear and forced courage before it starts to be a cruelty?

I highly recommend everyone at least attempt to read it. Only, when you do, don’t read it the way you do other books. You may have to fight with this one but just take your time and don’t give up. Don’t let the book defeat you. This book has some very important things to say, but it is the way they are said that is what sets this one apart. I’m glad I read it.

I think this one may have changed me.

I want to add that I think all writers should read this book. In my mind storytelling is something that is done neatly. A story must unfold in a straightforward and clear manner to be good. Catch-22 taught me that there was a different way to write. A story can be told in a sort of twisty-turny, jumpy, loopy, way and still be good if you do it right.

And Catch-22 definitely gets it right.

“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”

― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Fighting Fire with Fire: Is This Who We Are?

This post was originally sent out as part of my newsletter on July 2nd, 2016

***

“They eat dinner like us. Can you imagine them sitting around the table or wherever they’re eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don’t do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads? They probably think we’re weak, we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing, we have no leadership. You know, you have to fight fire with fire.”

Donald Trump

Is this who we are?

Lately, the world has become a bit of a scary place. Every time I turn on the news, every time I check social media highlights, I see more death and more hate. I see a world changing for the worst right before my eyes, and I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel outraged, and I feel 100% powerless to do anything about it.

The latest scary thing was the horrific bombing in Istanbul on Tuesday, which left at least 41 dead and 293. I feel for the victims, I feel for their families, and I feel for the rest of the world cowering in fear wondering when they, we, will be next. I feel for the future victims of further attacks too, because I know the end is nowhere in sight. I know this because I watch the world react, and I watch as nothing changes.

I watch people reacting to hatred with more hatred. It’s hard to stand on the sidelines and watch a situation escalate. It is hard to watch each side become more suspicious as each ups the anti hoping to win ground over the other. It’s hard to see a future coming at us 100 MPH where there is nothing but more suffering and more people killing people for the same stupid reasons we always have. A future where we battle and beat one another thinking, we will emerge from the wreckage and destruction victorious, unscathed, and without even a little bit of regret.

The future we think will come is a lie. The future that will come is bleak and painful.

We will crawl from that wreckage bruised, broken, and eventually, when the dust settles, we will look back and feel guilt, shame, remorse, and regret, but it will be too late. Remember the past people! Remember the slaughter of the Native Americans, remember slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow laws, remember the Japanese internment camps, remember all the lives lost, not just our soldiers, that’s bad enough, but all the innocent lives caught in the crossfire. Remember what we lost because we were fighting wars with people we didn’t understand. People we were afraid of because they were different.

I know we have to protect our country. I know we have to fight evil around the world. I agree with those points but are we really doing all we can to resolve our differences before risking American lives? Will we lose more lives by fighting fire with fire than using conversation, compromise, and common ground? Are we even fighting the right people?

As usual, I have only questions; I have no answers. I only know that there are many places in the world that need America’s help. Genocides are happening in many parts of the world, are we willing to fight for those people? Young girls are being kidnapped and raped, are we willing to send troops to save them? Children are starving and dying of preventable diseases, how much are we spending to feed and provide health care for them?

“We’re living in Medieval times. We have to stop it. We have to be so strong, we have to fight so viciously and so violently, because we’re dealing with violent people, vicious people…”

Donald Trump

There are horrors and suffering everywhere, all over the world, but it seems the US, and all of the western world, only have eyes for the Middle East. Why?

Add to that the fact that most terrorist attacks are carried out by US citizens, and you can see where it seems like this is about more than protecting American lives. I don’t mean to say there is a conspiracy. I mean to say that a lot of powerful people have noticed the very human tendency to focus all of our fear, anxiety, and unsatisfaction onto people who look different, speak differently, worship in a different way, and have used it to their advantage.

They take all that natural fear and anxiety you have, and they get you all worked up. They take that fear and anxiety and promise you that they can take care of it by taking care of those people. They more you get worked up the harsher they promise to be to those people and the better you feel. It is a human reaction, predictable but preventable.

None of this is news, and yet, more and more people in this country are supporting a candidate who recently called for a ban on Muslim immigration. A candidate calling for a ban on letting people in who are trying to get away from the same people we say are the true evil in this world. A candidate who believes that profiling based on religion, and let’s be honest, race, is something we should get back to. A candidate who thinks waterboarding and worse are called for as first steps.

“We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.”

Donald Trump

Is this who we are?

Does a man like that speak for America?

Is this the kind of country we want to build?

I thought we were better than that. I thought we were above that. I thought we were about creating a place where everyone can find life, liberty, and the engage in the pursuit of happiness.

How does fear, hatred, war, and torture play into any of that?

I thought we were about people being innocent until proven guilty and everyone getting their day in court. Lately, we’ve been pretty quick to call for, at best, American contempt and disregard for an entire race and at worst torture, imprisonment, and death of all people’s belonging to a certain religion based on non-existent evidence.

Is that the new American way?

All I’m saying is, it hurts to hear the leaders of this country disregard the lives of other human beings. It hurts to hear them lie to our faces and pretend to care about American lives all the while planning and plotting to send our people to fight dirty wars. Wars where they will die or come back worse off than when they left.

It hurts when you see the past repeating itself over and over again and politicians promising different results. It hurts when you hear them manipulating the people around me into believing the past is always better than the future and that brawn is more useful than brains.

It hurts when you hear a man who is running for leader of the free world and has made our tendency to follow the crowd and let our emotions cloud our reason a cornerstone of his campaign.

The world is a scary place. It isn’t scary because of the people who aim to put fear into us. No, it’s scary because the people who pretend to be on our side but have do not have the capability to see beyond their emotions or think about human life as something precious and worth saving whenever possible, no matter what that life may look like and how different it is from our own.

It’s scary because no one who has the power to do so is willing to find a better way. No one is willing to fight hate with love and understanding.

All I’m saying is, let’s just take a minute to think about what we are doing before we do something we can’t take back.

That’s all I ask.

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

Donald Trump

*sigh*

P.S. #PrayforTurkey

***

If you like this post, consider signing up for my newsletter. It’s a bit of experimental writing from me—more emotional, more private—and some interesting reads from a few other people. Made with lots of love, every week ♥

Featured image via JMacPherson

 

 

Hold These Girls in Your Hearts

This morning, the second anniversary of the kidnapping of the 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram, I read reports of girls they’ve taken being abducted, enslaved abused, drugged, and used as suicide bombers. I cried thinking that while I was going through a typical day, there were women in physical and emotional pain fighting for their lives and sanity.

I can’t imagine the hell these girls are going through, but even the few stories I heard brought me to tears. These girls need our help, and if it takes a village to raise a child it will take the whole world to save the most vulnerable ones.

Boko Haram is the terrorist group responsible for these atrocities. They operate in northeastern Nigeria and seek the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria and follow a strict teaching of the religion. They believe western education and influence is a sin. In fact, Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden”. Since 2009, the group has killed 20,000 and displaced 2.3 million from their homes. Boko Haram is ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index.

They became known around the world after the Chibok kidnapping and the campaign to raise awareness and #BringBackOurGirls. Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, pledged to bring them home. Of those girls, several managed to escape, but 219 are still missing. The last time the girls were seen publicly was in a May 2014 video released by Boko Haram, another video surfaced today and shows some of the girls still alive.

But these are not the only girls Boko Haram has kidnapped. Hundreds, maybe thousands, more have been held in slavery by the group and others have escaped or been rescued.

“When you are with them, there is a constant fear that they can kill you. Or maybe the bombs or stray bullets from the [government] soldiers can also kill you. It was just terrible.”

// Yagana

From the escaped girls, we have learned there is extensive sexual abuse, forced religious conversions and marriages, and many are forced to commit acts of violence. Even after escape they still have to face a community that ostracizes them or urges them to keep quiet about what they have endured. Many of the women who come back are pregnant and face substandard mental and physical health support.

These women need help. They have faced so much pain and death, my heart hurts just thinking about it. Here in America, it can be easy to forget that there is a big world out there beyond our borders. It can be easy to forget that there is great suffering and tragedy happening every day that many here could never imagine. I want to do my best to remember those girls and to share their stories when I see them.

I don’t know what else I can do right now, except hold them in my heart and thoughts.

Maybe we can all start there.

I will just pray for them that one day there is hope, that one day God will set them free from the hands of Boko Haram.

// Blessing