}

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Like it must have been

Today Nigel and I went out for lunch, as we sometimes do on the weekend. Nigel took a photo of his lunch (at right) and posted it on Facebook. My hand is in the background reaching for my soft drink. It was all so ordinary. I looked around us, and realised something about it.

As we were shown to our table, we passed people already seated and at various stages of their meals: An elderly couple having their meal, two young men, staring down at their phones flat on the table in front them, tapping away as they waited to be served their meals.

Across the aisle from our booth, a family—mum, dad, two kids. Further along, there was a young blonde woman and her partner. An Asian family arrived and sat at the booth next to us, on the other side of the glass partition.

The family near us was already well into their meal when we arrived. The son, who was facing me and looked between 10 and 12, moved something on the table, and his knife started to slip off onto the floor. With lightening fast reflexes, he caught the knife in the air. It was a pretty impressive move.

The young blonde woman and her partner were being served as we ordered. Soon I could kind of hear the Asian family talking, laughing, seeming to have a good time together. The family near us finished and left not long after we were served. They didn’t eat their toast.

We had our meal, and as we finished, I noticed the blonde woman had finished and was laughing and talking with her partner. She wore a white short-sleeve top, he wore a black hoodie, and had stretched his legs out on the booth bench while they talked. She played with her long hair and smiled a lot.

And then, I realised: That would’ve been the exact sort of ordinariness that people experienced in Paris just before the terrorist attacks. Indeed, that must be what it’s like before many such attacks—ordinary, even banal life interrupted, tragically ended—suddenly, brutally, unexpectedly.

I thought about that, of course, because the events in Paris were still raw and in mind, but at any moment something could change everything, whether it’s violent terrorist gangs, an exploding gas main, a plane crash—so many things could have taken the everyday scene we were part of today and turned it into something tragic.

Life is short, life is precious, and we should value every second of it. We all know that! Wait—do we? Because if we knew that, if we REALLY knew that, we wouldn’t spend so damn much time being really awful to each other?

I changed my Facebook Profile photo to the one at left. Facebook made it easy—and easy to make temporary (something I really like, by the way): If I haven’t changed it before then, my photo will automatically revert back to the original in a week. I changed my photo to express sympathy for and solidarity with the people of Paris, and in defiance of the forces of darkness—and nothing more. I certainly didn’t do it to be hectored.

I expected the rightwing to say vile and disgusting things in response to the attacks, and they did. They’ve been loudly denounced, mainly by people who didn’t like them to start out with, so I’m not sure how much good it did, but it was morally necessary to do.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that leftwing people also went after their own “side”. Weirdly, a lot of the Left’s anger seemed mainly against people who did things like changing their profile photo on Facebook.

“It doesn’t actually mean anything!” they declared, even as they proved it does by focusing their Internet scorn on people changing their photo. The lefties said our reactions, and overlaying our photos with the Tricolore, were racist because we only did something like that because “white” people in Paris were attacked, not for the people in Beirut, or Baghdad, or any other place where attacks have recently happened. Never mind that the US newsmedia has reported very little about any of those attacks, so the average person didn't know about them—the ardent lefties declared people "should" have known. And, being me, I strongly rolled my eyes at that notion.

People can’t be faulted for what they don’t know if the newsmedia they trust to tell them important things don’t do so. Obviously, not everyone has the time to scour the Internet to learn about everything that’s happening everywhere.

So, today I watched people doing ordinary things on an ordinary day, and realised how all that can change in an instant. And then I saw people—Left and Right alike—being truly awful to other people. The Right was vile and despicable; the Left was mainly just intensely negative and mean-spirited.

Here’s the thing: If we can’t treat human beings as human beings DESPITE our differences and our differing world views, if we can’t even just accept that a Facebook profile photo is just a damn photo, how on earth can we ever achieve peace? How can we stop people’s minds being polluted and their hearts and moral compasses being destroyed by politico-religious extremism when we can’t even treat each other with humanity and compassion and tolerance—even over something as silly as a profile photo?!

I honestly have no idea how we eradicate this cancer of politico-religious extremism, but I’m damn sure we’ll never figure it out if we can't stop being so awful to each other.

In the restaurant today, I had no idea who was nice and who wasn't, or who I’d like and who I wouldn’t. They were just people living their lives. If only we could accept that all humans are humans, hate each other a little less, and learn to get along despite our differences.

It starts with each of us: Which path will we choose?

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