“Why” is What Happened.
For many, January 6 was a sobering, almost unspeakable, almost unimaginable day.
That day crushed the image of America being a light on a hill in a dark world. It demonstrated a behavior that many would, in the past, attribute to ‘others.’ Those less civilized, less intellectual, less respected. We proved the brutal reality that there are no ‘others.’ That day, that event was surreal.
After witnessing and accepting the events that give way, I was unsettled like most others; however, I started to see a truth. The elements of the insurrection were a long time coming. It was a nexus of many things. Some of the first comments from friends and on the news was about racism. One of the obvious questions is whether racism was one of the nexus points in the rebellion. I do not think so.
Racism is an ugly fact we live with.
Sometimes more covered than others. Racism and other forms of hatred is a result of fear, control and communication barriers, intentional or not. Racism and other forms of social hatred come out when a social or cultural order is threatened. It is early learned and relearned behavior. It becomes part of our automatic response system. That raw part of us that we don’t consciously think about. It’s who we are before we take a shower in the morning, before we adjust our appearance in the mirror, before we fashion our hair, before we put on makeup to show the best image of ourselves.
That fear, control and communication barrier is no different than what our children experience without being influenced by culture. This way of thinking is the numbing agent of a world in flux. Our century old solution is to cast those insecurities on easily identified, less powerful groups of people. It solves the more complex problem of understanding self, and is easily taught and re-enforced in our entertainment, social structure and nation’s policies. We see racism so often that it’s like air, like background noise. Yes, we pay token homage; but it is still there. That is why I don’t believe racism is a leading part of the issue.
I believe the slow burning embers were started when we became a ‘how to evolve’ society, moving far away from focusing on the ‘why we should care’ society.
The ‘how’ is the work. It is the creation of the machines and computers. It is the development and construction of cities. It is the lights and shiny objects. The ‘how’ is where the money is made. We all want our children to get the most out of life, and ‘how’ is the material aspects of the American dream. Parents are demanding schools focus more on the STEM programs. Robotics and coding classes are full. Science and engineering schools have waiting lists.
In the years to come, we will have great computer developers, scientists and engineers. The ‘how’ will ultimately improve the quality of life. We will live longer. Life may even change the definition of work. We will choose to do activities vs work to sustain ourselves. The options of ‘how’ to live grows exponentially.
And an individual’s decision among a group for their ‘why’ has no boundaries. Each person will have their own why. Great! The only problem is, we no longer have a community or national priority. A follow up question is, other than emotions and feelings, what obligates us to our neighbor? Is this the answer to the continuance of a society? I think not.
Years ago, we knew (or had a better idea) who we were and our ‘why’. We appreciated the importance of civics, history, poetry, philosophy, and religion. All these themes helped us answer the ‘why’ questions.
They introduced us to the concept of a divine being. They taught us the definition of a patriot. They taught us the importance of the formation of a republic. They memorialized past sacrifices and the obligation to be considerate. These themes, and similar themes, give us the corners for living in a society — our agreement. It creates the sticky glue that binds our culture. It teaches us about the responsibility we have to one another. It provides rules to disagree. It also gives us an understanding of truth and the freedom to explore life together.
Aberrant behaviors are more easily identified and threats to our mutual agreement are appropriately challenged. These themes remind us what we have in common. It shows us the care and nurturing needed to defend a nation. Without this agreement, everything is right and everything is wrong, in other words anarchy. Through our ‘why’ we discover the paradox that principles and consensus are more lasting than guns and ultimatums.
When I listened to the insurrectionists speak, they spoke English in complete sentences. We speak the same language; but at the same time, we didn’t. I tried to understand them. Most of them seemed to have some level of education. What they all had in common was their narrow understanding of the corners of our society. They failed to understand that maintaining ‘us’ sometimes hurts and sometimes ‘we’ suffer (some more than others), there is sacrifice.
My observation is that we have neglected our “why.” And our emotions are filling in the gaps of what it should be. Our ‘whys’ are not the same. Like all ‘whys,’ they point to a belief in God or/and humanity; but we’ve drifted to our own corners of reality, a dangerous drift. A new ‘how,’ a new technology or even a new vaccine may distract us from addressing the problem; but we’ve got to get back to the basics.