To preface, I wrote this post ages ago, but it never felt right. In fact, it still doesn’t feel perfect. But with the recent news in the Gaza, I was reminded of this post I wrote and wanted to share.
Before reading, I don’t claim to have the answer for what’s happening over there. I think it’s more complicated than we’d like to pretend. Yes, Israel was created at the cost of forcing Palestinians from land that had been theirs for centuries. The United States did the same when we invaded North America. There’s a legacy of pain and injustice at the root of this.
But there are also people — Palestinians, Jews, Gentiles — whose lives are being affected and ended today, and exterminating one group will not heal us, nor is it the fault of a child who had no say in the matter of where they were born. A creative and empathetic solution is needed.
With that preface, here’s a post about how the power of “we,” rather than “they,” may lead us to healing as a species.
There’s this story called “The Egg” by Andy Weir. It speaks of how every human is one being reincarnated again and again and again, humanity being the journey of a single entity reaching enlightenment, one life at a time for all time. If this theory were true, it means it means you and me are the same. But it also means we’re the same as Hitler, as Jesus, as the billionaire, as the homeless.
“Every time you victimized someone… you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
We are the I, and the I is the we.
Which brings us to “them.”
Them is the great and mighty villain of we.
For with them, we can avoid blame and responsibility. With them, we can feel good and right. With them, we can rob our fellow humans of their humanity.
Them lets us hate. Them gives us pride. Them allows us to keep walking and making it their problem. Not ours.
And we all suffer because they are we.
In Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, she describes misogamy as this toxic fume affecting everyone. No one makes it out alive. No one is not a victim. We all breathe it in — woman, man, nonbinary alike.
It’s in all our lungs, robbing us all of air.
But when we learn of it, men get scared, puff up, and say, “No, not me! That’s the other guy! He’s the problem!” Feminist or those frat boy — doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not me.
Making it the them’s fault, we can carry on as though nothing is wrong, we can sleep soundly because we’re not the misogynist; they are.
But while we dream, humanity bleeds, and we all suffer.
We do the same with racism. We do the same with transphobia. We do the same with global warming.
And as long as it’s someone else’s issue, we can hate; we can hold on to pride; we can walk on by.
While racism robs Black kids of meaningful education.
While transphobia robs trans teens of healthcare.
While the world burns.
I see this a lot with Christians. I bring up pain I’ve experienced at their hands, and the classic response is, “Not all Christians,” as if the phrase gives them a pass because they didn’t do it; they’re not the problem. It’s that denomination, that church, that person.
And people leave the church in droves because apparently it’s no one’s fault.
But what if it’s our fault? What if it’s our mess? What if we took ownership of a mess that maybe we didn’t even make because we’re all in this together?
What if the enemy is me? What if the victim is I? What if they are we?
What if I can see myself in the homophobic person… because I used to be the homophobic person; in fact, those homophobic fumes still pilfer my lungs. Sure, I breathe more easily at times. But others cough and sneeze. That toxin is a stubborn bugger. Though I’ve left the closet, it’s odor follows me.
What if I saw myself in the evangelical Christian… because I used to be the evangelical Christian? I was so certain, so zealous.
What if I saw myself as the pro-life conservative… because I used to be the pro-life conservative? Voting against a woman’s choice.
But it goes beyond what we were.
What if I could see myself in the domestic abuser because maybe I could have become the domestic abuser under different circumstances?
What if I can see myself in the selfish politician because I could have been the selfish politician under different circumstances?
What if I can see myself in the human that I deem the least human, the monster, because “We are all the same at the wellspring of joy and pain”1?
What if they became we?
I’m not saying boundaries aren’t important. Shit needs to stay in the colon. Water must not enter the lungs. But all of it, both the life-giving air and the toxic-ridden stool, are in us, are a part of us, are us.
And I’m not saying horrible people get a pass. That misbehaving kidney, failing to clean our blood, has to be healed… or it has to be removed.
But at the end of the day, it’s still us, and transplants are always a last resort because it’s part of us.
What would happen, if we saw everyone, especially our enemy, as us? Would we treat them differently? Would we stay engaged? Would we have empathy? Would we come up with more meaningful solutions?
With we, maybe this time we’ll stop in our tracks when a human is hurting. With we, maybe this time we’ll drop our stones when someone makes us mad. With we, maybe this time we’ll pick up a napkin and wipe the face when the world has spewed on the misfortunate.
For that face is ours. That hurt is ours. That mess is ours.
What could our world look like if they became we?
If you like my writing, consider checking out my book. I specifically write about my pain with the church with coming out and what my healing journey looked like. Or you can check out more writing via social media. My handle on all accounts is @Flanbran.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. ↩︎
Cover image: Levi Meir Clancy
Body image: Ahmad Bader