What to talk about when you can’t talk about anything

We can’t talk about gun control today (or any other day), because it’s not (ever) the time to politicize things, at least not in that particular way. Also because a flawed document written by flawed men over 200 years ago must be treated as though it were literal Truth at all times or else Scary Things will happen.

We can’t talk about changing our societal approach to mental illness, because it’s unfair to attach the stigma of violence to mental health. Also, we don’t have the money to change our approach to mental illness, by which I mean we don’t care enough to find the money.

We can’t talk about the particular victims of this particular act of violence without ignoring the violence that strikes less visible communities every single day all across this country and around the world.

We can’t talk about violence against women, because, you know, not all men.

We can’t talk about race, because we live in a post-racial society, or so I’m told.

We can’t talk, because whatever we decide to talk about will be the wrong thing, and the words we use to talk about it inevitably won’t be adequate to the task.

But you know, we really better start fucking talking about it. All of it. We better start talking about gun violence, and violence against women, and the many ways we commit violence each day against our fellow human beings from Virginia to France to Syria to Australia and everywhere in between. We better start talking about why the richest industrialized country on the face of the earth regularly leaves people in desperate need of medical care to their own devices, either because they don’t have the money to make their way through our extraordinarily broken for-profit medical system or because we’ve already stigmatized mental illness to the point where it’s easier to murder another human being than it is to admit that you need help. And yes, we need to do it in a way that doesn’t make that stigma worse.

Maybe most of all we need to talk about why we seem to hate each other so much. Or maybe it’s not hate; for some people it obviously is, but maybe for most of us it’s just that we don’t really give that much of a shit about each other. I don’t really know how else to describe a society that will spend more time sharing videos of cats tomorrow than it will talking about what happened today in Virginia, or what keeps happening in St. Louis, or what happens every week on the west side of Chicago, or what happens nearly every day in Aleppo, or Baghdad. I don’t know how else to describe a society full of people who spend more time worrying about how they can deprive their neighbors — of simple pleasures, of luxuries, of basic necessities — than about how we can all work together to make this world a better place. I’m not judging; I’ll be doing the same thing myself. But it seems to me that if we never talk about it, we’ll never figure out where this hatred and/or indifference comes from.

The 13th century Iranian poet Jalal al-Din Rumi once wrote “If you can’t smell the fragrance, don’t come into the garden of Love.” I don’t know the first thing about poetry, so I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds right. If the only way you can interact with your fellow human beings is out of hatred or violence, or if you can’t spare a thought for people who are suffering as long as you don’t know them, then do the rest of us a favor and get out of the garden. Go get some help, or go give some, or if you won’t do those things then go hole up in a cave somewhere and let the rest of us try to build a society based on respect and love.


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