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Is Empathy the Answer?

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

I’ve been trying for a few days now to write this blog, but every time I try, I end up staring at my computer in tears. I want to write a blog that will do justice to the victims of the horrendous islamophobic terrorist attack in New Zealand. Not just those who died or who were wounded, but those who watched their friends and loved ones get killed. Those whose lives and sense of safety were ripped apart. Those who are suffering because they survived while many around them didn’t. Those who were not there, but will forever imagine that if they had been, they could have made a difference. I want to find the words that will hold all those people, comfort and soothe them. I want to find the words that can somehow erase this tragedy. Can sew back together the lives that were torn apart. I really want to believe that “Never again!” is possible.

As a kid I used to wish for world peace. The devastation of war was always beyond my ability to cope. If everyone could just stop killing each other for a moment, wouldn’t everything be better? Now that I am forty something, I’d instead ask for world empathy. Wrapped in a blanket of empathy, hate speech would be impossible, the righteousness that fuels our need to make others wrong would melt away. No one could gun down fifty people while they were living in empathy. We would be able to coexist as a species without the lies, hate and ignorance that make so many lives unbearable.

Sadly, no one is granting me any wishes and I am instead here, looking at the world around me and wondering how things have degraded to the point where countries who are living in times of peace, are still not safe.

I feel like all of this ties in to the shock that I’m feeling since I found out there are no white supremacist groups on the list of terrorist organizations within Canada. None. If you are curious, have a look here.

Am I crazy? Haven’t groups like the KKK been terrorising people in Canada since the 1920s? OK, so they are an outlawed group, but hello, why aren’t they terrorists? Then there are groups like Pegida that list their first objective as stopping the spread of Islam. If they instead listed their first objective stopping the spread of Christianity, would we still let them be a recognized non-profit organization in Canada? Nope, they would be terrorists. Then there are the Neo Nazis. Didn’t the Nazis terrorize half the world? Surely we can label them as terrorists.

It appears not. It appears that the list of terrorist organizations isn’t really linked to those who are spreading homegrown terror. It isn’t that the government isn’t aware of the threat. In this Global news article, “Canada’s minister for public safety says right-wing, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups are an increasing concern and threat to Canadians.” In a CBC news article from October of last year, hate crime expert Dr. Barbara Perry said that there are a minimum of 130 active right-wing extremist groups across Canada. Up 30% from 2015. I’m no expert in terrorism, but these numbers terrify me. (Yes, I realize that I am white, but as a lesbian in an interracial marriage and a teacher in a school where over the last 2 years I only had one white student, I love a lot of people I can’t protect from these haters.)

I’d like to think that the reason Canada doesn’t have any of these white supremacist groups on their terrorism list is because the definition that has been written to describe terrorism is so confusing that no one can figure it out… “In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code[1] defines terrorism as an act committed ‘in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause’ with the intention of intimidating the public ‘…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.’ Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems”. You can read more about it here, but I’m not sure that there is any point. Unfortunately, I’m pretty damn sure the reason that there are no white supremacist groups on Canada’s terrorism list is because we live in a racist country, where white Christian heterosexual able bodied men still rule the day.

So, what’s the answer? How do we fix this mess we live in right now? Let’s start by pretending that I got my wish. Let’s band together in a circle of empathy. Stand up for others because you would want someone to stand up for you. Reach out to people who are suffering because you’ve suffered before and it sucks to do it alone. When someone cuts you off in traffic, take a breath and put down your middle finger. Maybe they are rushing to the hospital because their mother just had a heart attack. Maybe their kids are screaming in the backseat and they can’t even think straight, maybe they are having a bad day and they just need some slack. Haven’t you ever had a bad day? Haven’t you ever wished you could take back that stupid thing you just said or did. Empathy and gratitude are best friends and the polar opposites to complaining and righteousness. So, who do you want to be? What is the mark you will leave on the Earth today?

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