Fear and Loathing in Orlando
& How We're All In This Together
Another terrible tragedy in the news. Another mass shooting in the U.S. The biggest one to date. Another barrage of news stories and FB posts pontificating about the details, the whos, hows, whys, and what ifs about the event and the people involved. My head is swimming with endless debate about gun control, LGBTQ (human) rights, alleged terrorist connections and religious affiliations, stories of the victims last moments, the accused’s past and current relationships, and family history. The list goes on.
All of it makes me want to cry and kick and grab people by the shoulders and scream at the top of my lungs, "STOP THE MADNESS! Why can’t we just stop the fucking madness already? What the hell is wrong with us?” Wait, don’t answer that... I think I have a theory.
Like so many of you, I am completely overwhelmed with emotion and almost at a loss for words. But, I am trying my damnedest to conjure some up, even if they are rough and messy and bordering on inarticulate, because saying nothing is just not an option. Saying nothing feels like a cop out to me. Saying nothing, means we have given up, and giving up, giving in to the dark side, should never be an option. EVER.
Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people and injured at least 53 more in an LGBTQ bar in Orlando Florida. It was a hate crime of epic proportions and unless you live completely closed off from the outside world, you’ve heard about it by now. I have been reading stories about it for days. I’m not usually one to marinate in bad news. In fact, most days I actively avoid the news because I just can’t absorb one more fleck of negativity without feeling like I need a nap, or a drink, or a good long cry. But when I started reading about the Orlando incident, I went down the rabbit hole and just couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop because I kept looking for something. Something that I have yet to find.
So far, not one single news story, FB post or tweet I have encountered, has even come close to discussing the root cause of why this egregious act happened. Not one. Was it about guns or intolerance or hate or ignorance? Yes, absolutely. It was about all of those things. But those things are all just symptoms of the bigger issue. To me, it seems glaringly obvious, and I just don’t get why nobody is talking about it. So I guess that leaves me to say it myself. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I’m a simpleton. But I have to say it anyhow, because you know... not an option.
Regardless of his religious or political affiliations, or lack there of, regardless of gun control laws in the U.S. (or lack there of), regardless of Mateen’s familial/personal relationships (or lack there of), regardless of his mental stability (or lack there of), it’s pretty obvious to me that we can be certain of only one thing. Omar Mateen, let fear rule his life.
All hateful actions are ultimately rooted in fear. As Ghandi said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” As Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Fear is the elephant in the room. Sometimes we disguise that fear as hate, sometimes we disguise it as bravado, anger, sadness, addiction, as political superiority, religious ideology, intellectual arrogance, as brute strength, and in more perverse situations, even as caring. But at the core, it’s all about the fear.
What was Omar Mateen afraid of? What is anyone who commits such acts of violence afraid of? Probably a lot of things. I’m not an expert on the details of his life, but if even a fraction of the news reports hold a shred of truth, then the LGBTQ murdering, wife beating, gun toting, security guard Omar, was walking around terrified most of the time.
For a person to lash out in such an overwhelmingly atrocious way, the fear has to run deep. Perhaps Omar, who reportedly frequented the LGBTQ club, was grappling with his own inner demons. Maybe Omar was terrified of his own leanings or inner urges. ‘Thou doth protest too much’, as the saying goes. Maybe Omar was deeply afraid of the judgement of others. Maybe Omar feared not measuring up to his father’s expectations, or his perception of what his God expected of him. Maybe he feared what would happen to him when he reached his version of the afterlife. Maybe he feared being a nobody and craved attention to a fault. Maybe he feared being his true self. Maybe he feared what he was unfamiliar with. Maybe he feared he was unlovable. Maybe he feared not being ‘enough’ in some way – man enough, brave enough, important enough, devoted enough, good enough, whatever. Maybe he feared all of these things and more.
What Omar really feared, we may never know. But I believe that if Omar had been taught to love and accept his fellow humans and himself, rather than to let fear rule his life, then things would have gone a whole lot differently.
Fearful people believe that violence and war are solutions to problems. Fearful people always need to feel they have the upper hand. Fearful people sell the kind of weapons they know are going to be used to hurt fellow humans, with no regard for who is buying them. Fearful people buy guns for the sole purpose of protection, and for inflicting harm on their ‘enemies’, not for hunting food or shooting clays. Fearful people beat other people up, so they can prove how powerful and in control they are. Fearful people want to dominate others and show the world they are a force to be reckoned with. Fearful people inflict damage on themselves and others because their reality is too painful to face. Fearful people lash out to hide their vulnerability.
And sometimes, fearful people say and do nothing (reportedly like Omar’s wife did), when bad things happen and injustices occur. Sometimes fearful people bury their heads in the sand and refuse to face reality, because reality is too uncomfortable. Or sometimes, they just go along with consensus, for fear of judgement and repercussions. Fearful people believe in lack. Fearful people believe in separation and isolation. Fearful people believe it’s us against them. Fearful people deny the truth, that everything is connected and that we are all in this together.
Listen, we’re ALL fearful at times. Even a lot of the time. Fear is a natural part of being human. It’s just that it seems to have hit epidemic proportions. We’ve allowed fear to have too much control in our world. Thankfully, most of us don’t let it take over our souls to the point that Omar Mateen did. If we continue to let fear run rampant in our lives and in our world, we risk witnessing the increasing frequency of it’s harmful impact on humanity.
Fear has morphed into a disease in our world. One that we need desperately to address, if we are ever to truly heal and flourish. When you treat the root of an illness, the symptoms start to disappear and eventually, the organism thrives. Continue to treat only the symptoms with ‘band aid’ type solutions, and the organism never actually recovers to full capacity. It may continue to exist, but in a sickly, suboptimal state. Is this what we really want for ourselves? Are we all just satisfied with merely existing? With leaving our children and grandchildren a world ruled by fear? I really hope not.
I have to admit that I almost abandoned this post because at some point, it got overwhelming. How can we solve a problem of such enormous proportions? How can we really cure the root of what ails humanity? And mostly, who the hell am I to even suggest a cause or moreover, a solution? Then I realized that that was fear speaking, and that I needed to keep typing and hit ‘publish’ to move past it.
So how CAN we begin to solve this problem? How can we lessen fear’s grip on our world? How can we, as ordinary people, ensure that incidents like the Orlando massacre and so many others become less, rather than more frequent, and hopefully one day disappear all together? I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to throw my suggestion in the hat. To me, it makes logical sense that we begin with the one thing we each have control over... ourselves.
As individuals, we can examine our own prejudices and ask ourselves where these come from. Are the ideas we hold based in fear? If so, we can educate ourselves on what we’re unfamiliar with (beliefs, lifestyles, religious ideologies, cultures, etc.) It’s a fact, that when we get to know something or someone, it becomes less foreign, less scary to us. So we can each open our minds to what’s unfamiliar. We can seek to understand, before we pass judgement, build barriers, and act from fear.
We can teach our children tolerance and let them know that people are people, no matter who they love, what they look like, or what religion they practice or don’t practice. We can want for other people’s children (even the ones we don’t know or agree with), what we want for our own. Safety, security, love, harmony, happiness and health.
We can stop seeing ourselves as separate from the rest of humanity, and start to see that we are all connected and part of the global family.
We can support causes that are working to make the world a more human, accepting place. Causes like LGBTQ (human) rights, gun control, social services, mental health initiatives, etc. Anything that comes from a place of love, inclusivity and understanding.
We can speak out against causes, beliefs, actions, events, organizations and policies, that seek to isolate, separate, condemn or dominate.
Most importantly, we can choose love over fear, for ourselves and for our fellow humans, always. This requires courage. This requires strength. This requires selflessness. But I’m an optimist at heart and I believe that most of us, if we dig deep, are up for that challenge.
One person can’t solve the problems of the whole wide world. That’s too much for anyone to handle. But each of us can do something, and since we’re all connected, what one person does, has an effect on the collective. Whether we choose to believe it or not, we’re all in this together.