Your racist words are everywhere right now, in the news, on social media, in the political debate. And I hear all these other voices expressing their disgust with you and what you represent. Behind the disgust (often expressed as irony and sarcasm) I hear a mantra being repeated: I’m not like you. I would never think like you, act like you, speak like you. Never. I am not like you. We are not like you.
I react like that too. I am disgusted too. But I will not stay with that reaction, because I know it’s not true. I am like you. I am exactly like you.
I’ve hated, just like you. I’ve been – and still am – prejudiced against people. I have chosen principles over compassion. I have refused to accept responsibility at times when it felt too heavy to shoulder. My need to be right have sometimes trumped my goodness. In my most confused moments I’ve wished another human being harm.
I know you are a good friend to your friends. I know you love your family. I know there’s a shadow in your head and that you’ve confused what it says for truth. In spite of that other voice, whispering it’s all wrong.
When you know something is true, when you know it with your whole being, there’s no need to fight. With truth comes peace of mind, dignity, the certainty that nothing can or ever needs to be forced. Truth is a place of rest, always.
Only when there’s doubt you shout. You become loud, because that’s the only way to drown out the conflict inside.
I’ve had shadows in my head too. But it’s hateful nagging voice was aimed at me. Around me I saw young men who didn’t seem to hate themselves at all. They hated other people. In fact, they spoke just like you.
The difference between them and me was slighter than you’d think. We differed only in where we aimed our hatred. In what we managed to hold back.
If I’d been a young man, would I have aimed that hatred outwards instead? Who would have become my target? Would I have been standing next to you, or on the other side? Would I have been your target?
I don’t know. What I do know is that hatred is all the same.
As a fifteen year old I sat in social science class and defended capitol punishment. I’m not sure I really believed what I said, but I went on about having forfeited your right if you killed another human being. That you deserved it.
Not long ago I talked to a man about rape. He said something similar, that whoever does such a thing has it coming to him. Prison is not punishment enough. There can be no justice without revenge.
I disagreed. Said I don’t want to live in a world where the blinding need for revenge rules.
You wait until your daughter is old enough, he said. Then you’ll know what I mean.
The fact is my daughter is old enough. She’s older than I was the first time I was raped. I didn’t say that to him, but I say it to you, because I want you to understand that I’ve hated.
Not just those who raped, but those who did not see. Those who got away, who got a better deal, who lived and loved and were not so desperately broken. Who did not have to become hard as flint.
And all the time there was something else present too. An irrepressible will to live. A deep, pulsating love.
Because humans are like that, filled to the brim with all that is. Sometimes it’s more than we can bear and we force ourselves to choose. Black or white. Love or hate. What we supress we are condemned to fight, every waking second.
That fight eventually cost me everything. And when I could finally get back on my feet again not even hatred was left. It had consumed itself and for the first time in my life there was an opening, a possibility to make different choices.
Still, it wasn’t until I had my first child that true reconciliation came. When I met that beautiful little being I understood for the first time what it meant to harm an innocent. What it would take. The blindness. The pitch black, bottomless abyss one would fall into when crossing that line.
I cannot imagine. I know it’s far beyond pain. Far beyond the point where pain has turned into numbness, into hatred, into a wasteland where you and I are separate, where we threathen each other with our very existence. Only then can you do such a thing. Only then can you lose track of your humanity so completely.
Something in me changed when I saw that. For good. I understood that in the end, they had been worse off than me. I saw that if I had to choose – perpetrator or victim – perpetrator would be the worse choice.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be worse than harming an innocent human being.
That’s why I grieve when I listen to you. The same grief I feel for anyone living a life of violence. That I felt for my childhood friend when he was young and for a time hated “the others” – refugees, gays, coloured people, anyone with a differing opinion. I grieved and we argued. I said to him what I say to my daughter now: I love you regardless. Not always what you do, but you. Regardless.
I include you. Nothing you do can make me believe you are something I’m not. Nothing you do can make me turn against you and act like you, talk like you, hate like you.
However black the darkness that surrounds you and your tribe is, I know a sliver of that darkness is in me too. The moment I forget that, we are forever condemned to fight your war.
I choose the other cheek. I don’t care about winning the argument, I don’t care about the principles. I’m not in it to win. I choose love.
Not the romantic kind, not the patriotic, not the personal, conditioned kind, that flutters and change directions when we don’t get it our way.
I speak of true love. Raw love. The kind that burns away everything but itself. The kind that endures everything, gives everything, forgives everything. Remember? You’ve heard those words at some wedding, where we read them without understanding.
I speak of the one true strength we’ve got. When war rages around us, urging us, whispering of a way out. Take the sword. Fight, they deserve it. They’re not like you.
Love that refuses.
Would you not defend your daughter?
Yes. I would.
I’d defend her with my body and my life if I had to. Then I’d turn back, again and again. Towards love. Tears running. I’d fall on my knees and give my bruised heart to life. Do what you will with it. Do what you will with me. I will never chose hatred. I will never chose the world that is born the moment I say yes to violence.
There is no ‘ok’ hatred. There is no good violence. There is no revenge that does not cost us all. I hope you are spared revenge. I wish you no harm, I know you already live the worst of lives. The most painful kind.
All I want for you is love. A life in integrity. The expererience of naked, trembling vulnerability.
I wish for your heart to break, over and over, so that each time it might beat a little freer. A little truer. I wish you’d forget everything you’ve ever learned, if only for a short breath. It would be enough.
That you’d be quiet for a moment, that you’d catch hold of the wisdom that lives in you, just like it does in me.
Because I am exactly like you. And you are exactly like me.