Soul Screaming

I was at Planet Fitness when I heard about Sutherland Springs
Screen #8, in-between NASCAR and the Food Network
Up to 26 dead in church shooting
I immediately become exhausted

Another mass shooting; another reason to feel sick in the soul
The word calamity should presume a rare occurrence
But I’ve already lost count of how many times it’s happened this year
What is the word we should use when catastrophe becomes routine?

The exercise machines around me continue to pump and buzz
But everyone shares in the same silence
A troubling cognitive dissonance permeates the atmosphere
No one looks away, but like in life, no one wants their rhythm disrupted

A dark question on everyone’s mind  no one wants to acknowledge
We, who have been lucky enough to maneuver the minefield of tragedy
We, who are forever distant to such a crestfallen community
How much should we care?

The globalization of news often feels like Sisyphus’s curse
We have unlimited access to the world’s problems
With finite power to fix them
Push the boulder enough and you’ll want to believe it doesn’t exist

But this shooting hit close to home
One stray bullet travelled 1,000 miles and grazed my apathy
A pregnant women, multiple young children, 26 innocent people
While worshipping the God-man who told us to turn the other cheek

I open my mouth to say something
And send a wordless breath into the ether
I realize that I’m not even sure of the questions
Let alone the answers

Some people are calling for less prayer and more action
As if these two things are mutually exclusive
Others are claiming that gun control will never work
A tacit admission that we’ve let this problem get too big to control

Some are saying we shouldn’t even talk about it
As if dialogue and political gain are the same thing
A cheap excuse to dodge the proverbial bullet
When justice demands some kind of retribution

Complexity gets reduced to simplicity
And dividing lines kill progress
Those in the middle experience crossfire from both sides
And become enemies to two states of extremes

I like guns – guns are fun – guns save lives
I hate guns – guns are dangerous – guns destroy innocence
I lie to my conservative friends and tell them I own one
I lie to my liberal friends and say I do not because of morals

But the truth of the matter is
I’ve never wanted a gun more than I do now
While at the same time
I’ve never wanted them abolished more than I do now

I open my mouth to say something
I feel like it’s important
Not because I have anything new to contribute
But because my soul needs to scream

Mansplaining For Men: Why You Should Support #metoo, Even If You Feel Legitimately Odd About It.

Yesterday morning, I was quickly scrolling through my Facebook feed when my eye caught a few statuses that contained the hashtag #metoo. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. To be honest, I’ve grown somewhat numb to hashtags and Facebook filters. It was too early in the morning to want to think about anything on social media beyond funny videos of puppies and fainting goats. But as the day went on, and the number of those hashtags kept increasing on my feed, I began to realize that those 6 little characters contained a great deal of gravitas. By evening, the sheer number of them forced me to cognitively deal with what was going on. My initial reaction wasn’t all that pretty.

This is where I get brutally honest and vulnerable. Bear with me.

At first, my mental response was a mixed bag of emotions. I felt sad and angry for my female friends. I also felt defensive, perhaps a bit incredulous. Something was holding me back from fully affirming the severity and legitimacy of #metoo. It was cognitive dissonance in its rawest form.

I also noticed that the majority of men in my Facebook feed were being silent about what was happening. That’s when it occurred to me: A lot of guys are probably experiencing similar emotions, and they don’t know what on earth to do with them. “What am I feeling?” is a question not easily answered in the male brain, at least not typically. It’s a skill I’ve had to develop over time. So I spent a long sleepless night trying to work out all my thoughts and emotions concerning the #metoo movement. It took a good deal of wrestling with myself. In the end it was worth it, because I came to realize that my initial feelings were dead wrong. Now, I am not ashamed to say that I fully embrace this movement, and hope I can convince other guys to do the same.

The rest of this post is for the guys. Ladies, you are welcome to read it, but know that some things I say might not sit well with you. It might sound like mansplaining. That’s because, in a way, it is mansplaining. I’m attempting to explain the importance of this movement in the language of men. I’m trying to be a translator. It won’t be a perfect translation, but I’m hoping it will help bring a little more understanding to something that might sound like Ancient Greek to some of us dudes.

. . .

Fellas, let’s just get real with our thoughts here. You might be like me and know that momma raised you right; that you respect women and would have a hard time not pounding on some creep you catch disrespecting the females in your life. You might call yourself an egalitarian and truly believe that all genders should have equal rights and equal respect. But when thinking about the #metoo movement, you might be experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

You might feel that conversations about sexual harassment and assault are important, but are skeptical of the effectiveness of any kind of hashtag movements.

You might feel that this movement is too broad and ambiguous, as sexual harassment and sexual assault are two very different things.

You might feel that even though you abhor sexual harassment and assault, that these kinds of movements increase outrage culture and foster an unhealthy victim mentality.

You might feel bewildered, as all the guys you know respect women.

You might feel that this movement fuels the hateful man-bashing narrative of radical feminism.

You might believe that every good movement or ideology needs safeguards to prevent it from turning bad, and feel these types of movements do not allow for balance and caveats.

You might feel that this movement just gives problems and no solutions.

You might feel that these kinds of movements generalize all men, and you hate that.

You might feel that by expressing any of the above concerns, you will be labeled as some hateful mansplaining misogynist.

And you might feel stuck because you want to support your female allies, but don’t want to be tacitly approving of things that might cause more harm than good.

If you have felt anyone of these above symptoms, your feelings are understandable. And they may be representative of some truth, but not the entire truth.

This is an important distinction so I’m going to say it again. Your feelings are understandable, and may be representative of SOME truth, but not the ENTIRE truth.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let’s pretend I told my lovely wife I will mow the grass today. I make every good effort to get it done, but in the process I twist my ankle and the lawnmower breaks down. When my wife gets home, she sees that the grass isn’t cut and becomes annoyed. This initial feeling of annoyance is completely valid and understandable, and representative of SOME truth. She’s ultimately not annoyed at the objectivity of the grass not getting cut; she’s annoyed that I didn’t do something I said I would do. But she’s no longer annoyed when I give her the entire story, because I did everything in my power to try and keep my word.

Was my wife in the wrong for initially feeling annoyed? No. She had unavoidable feelings based on her incomplete perspective. It would have been wrong of me to be outraged at her annoyance because her feelings were completely understandable. Instead of getting defensive with her, I shared with her my perspective and the problem was solved. Adults who spend a little more time understanding each other spend a lot less time being unhappy when they don’t need to be.

I’ll say it a third time: Your feelings are understandable, but we need to take time to see the bigger picture. In order for me to see the bigger picture, I had to realize that my perspective was very limited on a few things. Here it goes.

First, my own defensiveness was based on the absurd idea that there is an ever-increasing amount of women buying into the narrative that all men are the embodiment of oppression, scum, and villainy. Whether it was intentional or not, I got this idea from the media. Bottom-feeder bloggers and financially strapped news companies love to shine a spotlight on anyone who represents the extreme and unbalanced versions of any ideology. Believing that the news reports on the status quo will invariably lead you to believe the worst about society.

But the truth is, what the news tells me and the reality I experience are entirely different. Every single one of my female friends I know who posted #metoo are nowhere close to being man haters. 100% of them are intelligent, trustworthy, and respectful individuals. They’re not generalizing all men. They’re not marginalizing women who have experienced worse. They’re not trying to milk anyone for sympathy. There is no reason why I shouldn’t believe these women or think they have some sort of ulterior motive.

My skepticism about the severity of sexual harassment was also based on my own limited perspective. There have been times in life when I’ve experienced what could objectively be defined as sexual harassment. These moments did not really affect me because I had the power to push back. That is, except for one time. A long time ago, I had a superior who was blatantly sexually some of my coworkers. His position of authority made me feel powerless to do something about it. The harassment wasn’t even directed at me and the situation made dread work every day. This trip down memory lane was shocking and sobering, because it made me realize that if I ever experienced direct sexual harassment while also feeling powerless to do anything about it, I’d be pretty torn up about it.

My skepticism over the amount of terrible men out there, again, was based on my limited perspective. I live in a nice-guy bubble where the closest men in my life are aggressively egalitarian and take terms like honor and integrity seriously. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing. However, it also makes me sometimes forget to take off my rose-colored glasses.

My skepticism over the effectiveness of this hashtag movement was completely unfounded – not that it’s my job to judge these things anyway. I’ve heard several women state that posting #metoo was the first time they’ve ever publicly acknowledged their circumstance of being sexually harassed or assaulted, and doing so felt like a weight lifted off their shoulders. Guys, if you have women in your life who have experienced these things, and have kept it bottled up due to various fears, then that seriously points to a really big problem in our society. These women aren’t increasing a culture of victimhood, they’re taking steps towards healing. And they’re showing us that the problem is more serious than we realize.

Finally, my feelings over this movement offering all problems and no solutions were simply wrong. We can’t solve unless we’re aware, and my awareness has increased dramatically. It’s now not enough for me to just state that I’ll personally respect women and teach my sons to do the same. This is a problem we must solve collectively, both men and women. Maybe we should start teaching virtue along with math and science. Maybe we should start being a little less of a status-driven society and more of an honor-driven society. Maybe we should start taking seriously the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the words of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other.” I don’t know if there’ll ever be a perfect solution, but I’m optimistic that we can do better.

So guys, let’s support the hell out of this movement. You may not 100% agree with everything it stands for, but the only person that will ever fully agree with you is…well…you. Sexual harassment and assault is too important to get ideologically nitpicky. Provide a listening ear to those who wish to speak. Speak out whenever sexual harassment is seen. Show support by simply saying “I believe you”.

Be excellent to each other.

My Enemy’s Doppelganger: A Letter of Forgiveness

I saw your doppelganger today
I found it strange because I haven’t seen one in over a year
I used to see you everywhere – in the curved bill of a ball cap, in the ruddy
tones of another man’s beard, in the gap of a toothy smile
I remember feeling hostile towards any poor sap that would resemble only a sliver of your appearance
I once caught myself staring down a guy who could have been no more than your distant cousin
He was a pastor; a faithful family man
He didn’t deserve my ocular wrath
None of your doppelgangers did

Our past is a sobering oddity
I had only met you once or twice in person
But after your crimes against me, I couldn’t get the image of you out of my head
That may sound strange, as such vernacular is typically reserved for people who have fallen in love
But this was the first time I truly felt hate

You never forget your first time
In every way, it is the counterpoint to falling in love
Falling in love is euphoric, divine, with paradoxical overtones of misery
Falling in hate is debilitating, subhuman, with paradoxical overtones of exhilaration
Hate is the leaky battery that fuels your motivations but corrodes your soul
Hate makes you the voodoo doll

After a few months, I decided I would need to stop hating you
And start walking down the path of forgiveness
Please know that I’m no saint; I initially decided this for purely selfish reasons
Your mental image was like an overplayed Taylor Swift song
One of the ones I never liked but was still an earworm
I grew tired of mentally constructing elaborate plans for vengeance, knowing I’d never actualize them
I was sore from all the pushpins
Sick from all the poison I was ingesting, thinking it would somehow affect you
I wanted to take back the power you had over me
A power you never wanted and probably didn’t even know you had
It wasn’t exactly forgiveness
It was a variation that was declared with the simple refusal to hate
It was forgiveness expressed with the head, but not yet felt with the heart
But it was a beginning

My journey towards healing was long
But I was more fortunate that most others who have traveled that road
I had an army of loved ones who kept guard while I repaired the cracks in my soul’s foundation
And the more I healed, the less I saw of your doppelgangers
They would show up occasionally, but they brought along different emotions
When I saw them, I no longer felt anger
I felt a strange and subtle fear
But sometimes that’s all anger is, really
Anger is often fear with a few extra ingredients thrown in to give it a different form

I soon realized that the fear I was experiencing really had nothing to do with you
It was the fear of some metaphysical evil that was lurking around the corner
It was the vulnerability of thinking that the tide would inevitably come and flatten my sandcastles again
You’re not responsible for those feelings
There’s no doubt that what you did to me was wrong
But that does not make you the incarnation of evil

It’s now been a few years since that time when our lives disastrously converged
When I saw your doppelganger today, I felt something entirely new
The only word I can think that could accurately describe it is humanity
I didn’t see you as an object for my anger, nor as a two-dimensional poster child for maliciousness
You had flesh and blood
You had dreams, desires; you had virtues that I find lacking in my own life
You had your own share of sandcastles that have been leveled
You had your own fears and vulnerabilities
You looked…not all that different from me

And that’s when I realized what I was truly, ultimately feeling
It was complete and total forgiveness for you

In two cities of nearly a million souls, it is unlikely that serendipity will cause our paths to cross again
But I wonder what would happen should lightening ever strike twice
There’s no relationship to reconcile between us as our timelines diverged just as fast as they collided
We were but cameos of great consequence in each other’s movies
We’d probably just awkwardly nod at each other and pretend the
encounter never happened
And we’d go on to build more sandcastles with the people who have a lot more lines in our scripts
So you probably don’t even need my forgiveness
But it’s there, should you want it, without reservation
I forgive you
And I sincerely hope you’re doing well