Split Into Good People and Death Eaters

“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” – Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling, 2003)

For a few weeks now, I have had many thoughts and wanted to write but at the same time, I didn’t know what to say. I am still not entirely sure on what to say.

On October 27th, a gunman entered a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and started firing. Eleven individuals were killed, with six others included. Police officers were among the injured. The gunman’s (who was injured in a firefight with police and detained) motive was that he hated Jewish people. He went to a place of worship and brutally murdered individuals simply practicing their faith – as is their right, in this country – all because of their religion.

We’re talking about 2018 Pittsburgh, not 1940 Germany.

In the weeks that have followed – less than a month – there have been two more mass shootings. One was at a country music bar in California, and the other one, only yesterday, was at a hospital in Chicago. Frankly, and terrifyingly, nowhere in America is safe anymore. We shouldn’t be living in fear of crowds due to the potential for a mass shooting, but so many different types of public places have been marred by mass shootings. So many people came to America for freedom of religion, a right guaranteed to our citizens, and some are suggesting we need armed guards at places of worship. How free are we if we know we are targets simply because of our religion? For having faith? The idea is incredulous to me. I couldn’t care less about the religion of strangers to be honest. It is not my business, and it really doesn’t have an impact on me. I’ll do my thing and you do yours.

But, I want to talk about more than the monstrosity of these shootings and their frequency. I want to talk about hate and how people treat each other.

In the days that followed the Squirrel Hill shooting, the city began to grieve, repair, and heal. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Although, logically, we know that these things can happen anywhere, the reality of it happening in your hometown is a punch to the gut. It is horrifying. But, there were many actions of goodness and kindness as a response to the shooting. The support for Squirrel Hill had no limits. Logos appeared with the Star of David incorporated into the Steelers logo, and local clothing lines made their own designs with proceeds benefiting the Tree of Life synagogue. We declared Pittsburgh stronger than hate. Always a sports town, emotions were high when it came to those first Steelers and Penguins games.  Teams held a moment of silence across both leagues. Rivals like the Baltimore Ravens declared they stood with Pittsburgh, and the Washington Capitals donated their proceeds from a 50/50 in a game versus the Pens to the Tree of Life – and the winner ultimately donated his half too. Donations were pouring in from everywhere. The funerals were paid for. Locally, various organizations dove into to helping the Jewish community including other religious organizations. There was so much goodwill in response to this tragedy. I don’t want to discount this at all. Pittsburgh really did come together.

But it shouldn’t take the tragedy of a Synagogue shooting for people to come together and do good.

I’ve talked about how much kindness means to me and how important I think it is before. And I really didn’t receive any response to that. But I think now it is more important than ever before.

Hate is a powerful emotion. I was raised to use it very, very rarely and never towards a person. Now that I’ve grown, it amazes me how much energy people waste towards applying hate. This is especially so if it is something that doesn’t impact them at all, like aspects of how someone else lives their life. I don’t understand it. I really don’t care about how other people live their lives, their religion, politics, sexual orientation, or whatever. I’m just going to try to be polite until someone gives me a reason not to be (i.e., I’m going to be polite but I am not going to let people walk over me either).

I was also raised that if I didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all. And honestly, rudeness accomplishes nothing. Hate breeds more hate. And that just continues to accomplish nothing, and it is more likely to cause problems than solve them. Kindness can go for miles. Look at when people pay it forward! It can go on for hours.

Social media is the worst for hate. For lack of a better word, people can be nasty. Sometimes I wonder what people would type if they had to say it that person’s face or if their mother were to here what they said or if someone said it to their mother. What really blows my mind is that these insults are often over really dumb things. Insults are no way to win or validate an argument. It isn’t going to have a positive result. The one that really gets me every time is “libtard.” To me, it is not about being “politically correct.” That is just downright rude and insulting. And we know why. It really bothers me how some people refer to others and make judgements, and it is uncomfortable to talk about. But I want to try to talk about it more. All insults like that do is breed more hate. You aren’t going to convince someone of your position through insults.

The other thing is that social media shows such a small part of who we are and of most stories. I’m not super religious, but I do believe that only God has the right to judge. We have no idea what is going on in someone else’s life. To judge someone especially on an Internet comment is ridiculous. I have noticed that a lot of people want things to be “this or that” or “I’m right and nothing else is.” Life isn’t that simple. People aren’t that simple. It is like we forget how complex we are and how such a variety of beliefs, decisions, and experiences make up a person. Many of life’s events and choices have more than one “right” choice. This is probably going to be one of my stranger pop culture references, but Shrek got it right. He says how ogres are like onions because they have layers to peel back to get to know them. People (human people) are pretty much the same. And people will judge and insult others, often strangers, based upon a two sentence comment from an article that probably doesn’t give the full picture or someone is commenting based upon the headline and caption rather than reading the article. And generalized assumptions – like all conservatives are racist and all liberals want a handout – aren’t productive either. Generalizations and assumptions can result in touchy conclusions. We need to start looking more at the individual and how we can work with them. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I feel like more often than not, people can come to a compromise if they work together and listen to one another.

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”  Fred Rogers

This is where the Harry Potter quote comes in. I swear I have a point in all of this. The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. Or, rather, in our reality, good and evil. It is a lot more complicated than that. Without a doubt, there are truly evil people in this world. I don’t think that is something that we could ever fully eradicate. But I also think there are more good people than we sometimes realize. There are people who change their ways and become good people. People can grow beyond their past choices. Differing viewpoints doesn’t always mean that one is right over the other. Sometimes, there are multiple right answers. Other times, there is no right answer. This might be an unpopular opinion, but even in terms of crime – not every convicted criminal is a bad person. Unfortunately, there are many who are and do not care about the consequences of their actions or who they will hurt. But there are those who make mistakes. Or people who regret their actions and atone for it. People can change.

Again, maybe I am overly optimistic or jaded but I do think most people are good. We just need to be better to each other. Those little things like insulting strangers on a Facebook comment might not seem like much. But I do believe that those are the things that add up. We also teach our children these “golden rules,” like “keep your hands to yourself” or “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but then we don’t practice them ourselves. And kids learn a lot by what they see the grown-ups doing. We need to do better.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say they are concerned for the world we are leaving to our children. I totally see why. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I really, really, really believe that if we all do a little bit more good and spread a little bit more kindness, it is going to be a chain reaction. More people will take part. The little things add up! Anyone can make a difference. It can use up a lot less energy than hate. We need more compassion in this world. It is up to us as individuals to be compassionate.

To the surprise of no one, I am going to throw in some Star Wars quotes. First, Yoda. I think many people will, perhaps uncomfortably, find it relatable, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (The Phantom Menace) People sometimes fear what they don’t understand. It can kind of spiral out of control. Different doesn’t mean wrong. Our differences are what makes the world keep going. Although, in some ways, we are more alike than we realize. We need to get better at keeping an open mind and really listening about the differences. A lot of the time, we’ll find that our goals are the same.

This other quote I thought about a lot after the synagogue shooting, when people’s sympathy began to turn into defending their position and everyone else was wrong online, especially where certain political figures were concerned. Politics, unsurprisingly, is a huge breeding ground for insults, hate, and no effective or positive results. That is where people began insulting each other online again. It amazed that that quickly people forgot. People forgot the “stronger than hate” and started blasting each other on opinions again. This one is from Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Luke, don’t give into hate. That leads to the Dark Side.” (The Empire Strikes Back)

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of Jedi and (more like fortunately) Sith. The Dark and Light Side aren’t so apparent. Or, really applicable at all since there isn’t the Force to keep us in check. But hopefully you get my point. Giving into hate isn’t going to lead you anywhere good. It isn’t good for you. Giving into hate can start a slippery slope. We can accomplish so much more with positivity and…not hate. Against hate. And I know that many of the people I do see participating in these stupid social media arguments are good people. Again, most people are much more than the comments they make online. Many of these people do a lot of good things. Maybe I’m a fool for thinking we can do more good.

Don’t give into hate! I believe that the small acts of kindness really do add up. Those acts can result in change. I don’t have children yet. But I want to build a better world and future for them. And I want to teach them to be better and do good. We are the creators of their future. They will learn from us. The example we lead is what they will follow.

So why do we treat each other like crap? Yeah, many of these interactions may be with strangers we will never see again but what is the purpose of being rude to them? Why can’t we just treat them the way we want to be treated, another golden rule? What benefit is there to being rude? For God’s sake, it amazes me how many people are so appreciative when you use a please and thank you because they hear it so rarely. That is literally the basics of manners. It is an extra two words at most.

I don’t expect kindness to solve all the world’s problems and have us all around the campfire singing “Kumbaya.” But, dammit, I think it can make a difference. Yeah, we’re going to have disagreements and frustrations. But so many people day in and day out choose rudeness over decency because its easier. The easy thing doesn’t always reap the benefits of the right thing in the long-term. And just because someone is rude to you doesn’t mean you have to be rude to them. That’s not an excuse. If anything, I think it’s best to ignore them. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

We all have to share this world together. We might as well work together on making living together as enjoyable as possible.

After the synagogue shooting, many people were quoting Mr. Rogers. Some of these I’ve shared before.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

I feel like we have collectively let Mr. Rogers down.

I wish we still had his guidance through this strange, new reality of a constant, unrelenting threat of violence. I saw so many people quoting Mr. Rogers, but so many of us aren’t living his beliefs. I really think the little extra effort in day to day life instead of only in times of tragedy will make a greater difference in the long run.

I wonder often what Dr. King would think about today. He also preached against hate and promoted peaceful protests instead. Even still, many disagreed with his stance and believed he was out of line. Yet, look at how we remember him now.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.  Dr. King

The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. There is dark and light in all of us.

I hope I’m not sounding preachy. Maybe you think I’m a hippie. Maybe I am. But I really hope people can take something from this. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for in this world. Let us spread that positivity. We can work together for a better tomorrow.


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