I just opened Facebook, and the first post I see is: “Thoughts and prayers to the victims of the attack at the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.” The sentiment is understandable, and I know so well that we feel powerless to do any more. We feel shock, alarm, horror at the thought of the sorrow those affected are feeling, and our go-to response is prayer and anguished thoughts. Praying and thinking of the victims is all we can do.
It isn’t. We can do more. We feel helpless because we can’t directly do anything for the victims of the attack, and are blind to how much power is in our hands that we simply leave idle. Every one of us can take concrete action against the fear, hatred, division that lies at the heart of this and any other action taken with the aim of killing and maiming fellow human beings.
Begin by understanding. Terror doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere, it has a cause. That cause is complex, but it can only be withered and made to die if we first understand it. You cannot eliminate parasites in your garden unless you first understand what the parasites thrive on, and how to make your garden an environment that no longer sustains them. To be clear: the parasites are not the terrorists, the parasites are the factors in their lives that convinced them to become terrorists. Those factors are in your hands. Your community is shaped by your behaviour, and that community as it stands is producing people who choose terror. Connect, because it is so much harder to kill someone you are connected to, whom you experience as a caring fellow citizen than someone who looks at you with hatred and judgement, or with indifference. Stop praying and start connecting with those who are disconnected in your community.
Community includes where you live on the internet. Stop supporting sensationalism. Whatever your view, seek out reporting that eschews name-calling and emotional rather than factual reporting. Clamour for some solution to the fake news epidemic – and don’t think your side isn’t susceptible, fake news has caught everyone of every political persuasion in existence. We are just too starved and slavering for anything that confirms what we already think, so when we see that person we thought was no good said or did something stupid or horrible, we don’t question it because we want to believe it. Fake news is feeding a monster you and I create every day by asking for our preconceived ideas to be fed and confirmed. Being right is such a high, we love being told that we are spot-on. Stop praying, and start resisting your own craving for your biases to be confirmed.
Renounce anyone who dares step in the direction of dehumanising whoever you consider to be The Other, whether that other is elites or immigrants or city dwellers or rural dwellers. Dehumanising is the first necessary step to convincing ordinary, everyday people like you to consider atrocities normal and justified. It is a crucial step in literally every genocide ever studied. Stop praying and start pushing back against dehumanisation.
Away from the keyboard, step out of your comfort zone and act contrary to hate. Here’s a thought: instead of only offering thoughts and prayers, I am offering one act aimed at working towards connectedness in my community, especially with anyone I see as “The Other”, for every person killed or injured in the Berlin attack. One kind thing, but not just a kindness to make me feel good, something I put thought in to honestly try to connect with someone I don’t feel connected with.
I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. I’m ready for actually doing something that will change my world.