Important Note: The following has been written as an opinion related to current events and does not necessarily represent the views of Kelly Magazine, Kelly Mental Health, or related entities. As an opinion, it can also be wrong, and that’s okay. It’s meant to be helpful, thoughtful, and hopeful. This writer is open to criticism and education at any time, as long as it helps make our world a little better
As a rule, I don't like jumping on trends in the media. I've been around long enough to see that hashtagging, hanging decals and signs, or making poignant posts are all well-intentioned. But eventually the posts fade, our collective attention span shifts, and the decals lose their charm so someone has to scrape them off into the garbage since we're all onto something new.
And most times, despite all the outcry that seems SO loud, nothing changes.
With Pride Month beginning at the same time the bodies of 215 children have been discovered at the remains of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, it seems to me that a copy/paste note, or a related profile picture just isn't enough. And maybe I'm wrong on that - I'd love to know if it really makes a difference in the way we treat one another and how we raise future generations to behave. But these are big. Too big to pay lip service - too big to risk saying the wrong thing.
I could tell you that for many years, my team and I have been counselling survivors and family members of those who were in the Indian Residential School system, that the Kamloops discovery doesn't surprise me a bit and that it's just the tip of the iceberg. I could tell you about those that shared horrific stories of being ripped away from their parents in the Sixties Scoop, of being dehumanized from birth, denied legal rights, abused in foster care, and then continually told...
"Get over it."
I could tell you about those who look forward to expressing themselves during Pride Month because in too many countries, it's perfectly legal to torture and execute them for who they are. I could tell you about people that every day of their lives fear being attacked, shunned, and even killed because their society has decided they are wrong and don't fit.
But those are not my stories to tell. My tiny role in all this has been to help them heal by voicing their own stories, and hope that those voices growing ever stronger force our society to evolve to be better, kinder, and more humane than we have ever been throughout history.
It is dehumanization - seeing a person as something less than human - that has led to the greatest tragedies in our world. Dehumanization - us vs. them, the idea that one group of people can be less valued than another - this mentality rots the core of our humanity and makes us act ugly to one another, makes us not care what's happening as long as it not happening to us or "our people." But in the kind of world we'd all be most at peace in, everyone would be our people, our community. We should have learned by now that the consequences of being divided are far too great.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of tragedies and events needing reconciliation paired with all the fears about our uncertain future can be so overwhelming that it can seem futile to try to make a difference. In short, many care but feel powerless.
And no one has a perfect answer for how to make things right. No one. We can't bring those kids back. We can't undo what has been done. No policy or symbolic day of remembering can undo the ugliness of what occurred back then and continues to echo on today.
But with this knowledge, we can make different choices than those that came before us. We can ensure that tragedies of this magnitude never happen again.
The more I understand, the more I can teach others with compassion. When someone I know makes a comment that dismisses another living person's humanity, I can ask them what they mean, where they learned how to speak like that, whether they understand the impact of what they said. I can let them know how I would feel if that were said about me, or if I heard someone say it about them. I can tell them how I used to flippantly make remarks like that because I grew up hearing them, and how we all make mistakes that we can learn from. I can nip it in the bud and show them it is unacceptable without being aggressive and turning them away.
I can create compassion with compassion. I can educate rather than reject, since rejecting, punishing, and debating only entrenches and isolates people in their own views. This seemingly insignificant nudge can be the moment in someone's life that makes them hesitate before saying that ugly thing, that makes them decide it's best not to let the kids repeat it, and that makes compassion and open-mindedness more valued than pitting people against each other.
Look around and see what's happening now in your own world. Your neighbors. Your family. Your coworkers. Your children. FACEBOOK. Pretty much all social media that by design divides us.
Notice when people are being treated as less than human.
Notice when a group of people are being dismissed entirely because of who they are.
Notice when people's vulnerabilities are being exploited for a laugh.
Notice when the media tears people down, how we encourage this trend by tuning in, and how it makes us cold and uncaring when the ugly words become ugly actions.
Notice how we look to the people around us to reinforce the words we say and the actions we take.
Notice here in Thunder Bay how many of us like to follow social media groups that dehumanize other people because of their addictions, their race, their high-profile positions, or their gender.
Let's stop letting it be funny. Self-deprecation and good-humoured joking is fine - cruelty is not. And we all know when the line is crossed.
Let's stop making it acceptable.
We can't change history. But we can learn from it, and we can do better.
Together, we can create a present day that our children never need to apologize for. Something on which they can look back and be proud. Could we even imagine such a thing?
Let's work together to do just that.
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