“.. before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“Is everything okay over there?” said my son, calling from half a world away. “Yes… fine…” I replied, moments before madness hit London Bridge. Britain, like so many countries recently, reeled once again as violence destroyed lives and peace. That attack followed hard on the heels of Manchester and Westminster, and would precede a lethal attack on Finsbury Mosque.
“My daughter and granddaughter were there,” said our Companion, speaking of the Manchester bombings that killed children as young as eight years old, as we struggled to come to terms with yet another explosion of hatred and inhumanity.
Britain is far from being unique in this. Globally, over eight hundred terrorist attacks have been listed this year alone. Every one of them the product of hatred, prejudice and intolerance.
People, ordinary people, are attacked… acid is thrown, bombs detonated, bullets sprayed, vehicles rammed… and for what? Because they have a different skintone, nationality, history or belief. There are around seven billion human beings on this earth… the only planet in the entire universe that is home to our species. To put that in perspective, there are around a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way alone. Surely the fact that such a small planet can produce such a diverse species should be cause for celebration, not hatred and murder?
Like so many others, I have watched from the relative safety of my home, feeling helpless to do anything practical or ameliorate a shocking situation. Many of us will have imagined what it must feel like to walk in the shoes of the victims of terror or those of their grieving families, all the while knowing that we could never truly imagine how that feels.
With no TV, I keep abreast of events through social media and online news, watching too as the abyss of division widens between anger and care. Many shout immediately for retribution and vengeance, using violence to incite more violence. Others quietly open their homes and hearts to help those affected by the attacks. Still others attempt to be a voice of reason and are, more often than not, themselves the victims of verbal vitriol.
I am not certain that reason can be heard when feelings run so high. When something so shocking jolts us awake, we each react according to our own perceptions, within the limits of our own character and experience and with a conviction that may be deaf to opposing views. When we hear them at all, it is often only to deny them. And while some wrangle and spit vituperation across the airwaves, families wait in fear for news of loved ones who will never come home.
I have never understood what those who sow terror seek to gain. I can cite the official reasoning, but it makes no sense to my heart. The only reason that I can see is to divide those who would oppose them, undermining the very solidarity that can oppose them… and, having read some of the divisive comments and toxic rhetoric that surfaces every time such attacks occur, I have to ask if such comments mean that they are being allowed to succeed in their goal.
Fear breeds hatred, and while we condemn the acts of violence and terror themselves, allowing ourselves to succumb to hatred in our turn only perpetuates that dark, destructive flame.
As individuals, we each have a choice in how we face each day and each new challenge. We are responsible for what we think, say and do. “‘They’ said so” is neither excuse nor defence when it comes to our own conscience… that is one area of our lives where we can and must face the truth of our own hearts and take what we find there out into the world. It is not enough to sit in judgement, behind closed doors, nor is it enough to condemn those who perpetrate terror or sit on the fence, either in uncaring arrogance or in frightened silence.
We each have a choice and the responsibility to act, living out our lives in full knowledge and recognition of who we are and what we do. History has shown the folly of turning a blind eye or hoping someone else will change the world. Each of us has it in our power to change the world for the better, right now, no matter how small we feel in face of global events. We may be powerless in face of the powerful, we may feel helpless in face of tragedy, but we can each of us stand within our own conscience and say, I will not be ruled by hate.