I have had this gnawing thought in my mind that there is an absolute absurdity to the way we are informed and allow our minds to be shaped and the tragic ways we contribute to violence when our starting points are opinionated minds rather than compassionate hearts.
There is yet again a new violent tragedy of war being faced in a different part of the world as Russia attacks and invades Ukraine. We, who are entirely disconnected from it in almost any meaningful way (except, of course, the most meaningful way – that this is a tragedy against humanity, and our humanity is shared with the victims experiencing this tragedy, though we are generally numb to this basic connection), are invited to witness it taking place. But we are not invited to share in it. The tragedy is someone else’s, and we’re not supposed to feel it for ourselves.
Instead, we are told what kind of opinion we should have about it. Not about the tragedy, of course. We should not have an opinion about the parents placing their children on departing busses, hoping that wherever they end up, someone will have mercy on them, and the pain that awaits them will be less than the pain of staying where they are. No – that would be too intimate. Too close to the tragedy. We shouldn’t think of them. We’re instead supposed to have opinions about Ukraine and Russia, and maybe one or two key leaders. Of course, it is an opportunity to verbally attack current and former United States presidents. So we watch news media that tells us what our opinion should be, what we should say, how we should argue and defend the positions they’ve taught us.
Then, after we have been assigned an opinion, we should argue about it over social media. We dispute what is or is not “warranted” and what the consequences should be. We parrot the line about how other nations “only have two options: let this happen or enter a third world war” because we have no imagination for how conflict might end without escalation. Whoever wields the weapon of death most effectively wins, and that’s just the way it is, we say, as we stare down at our calendars and remember that we are less than a week away from the season that stretches from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday.
Isn’t it absurd? Isn’t it personally painful to think that we would be expected to have opinions about things over which we have no actual influence while neglecting the very real pain of those who are being violently attacked?
Shouldn’t our starting point be compassion? Empathy? Do we need to have an opinion about this at all, except that it is tragic and that this isn’t how humanity is intended to work? Shouldn’t we be mourning with those who mourn?
And the question that haunts me the most: if I play this game of opinions rather than empathy, do I accomplish anything more than giving death victory? If we allow our minds to be shaped by people who pursue power rather than allowing our hearts to be shaped by love for our neighbors, is there hope for change? The mind can justify anything, but the heart does not so easily follow.
I fear for my own soul when I have strong opinions about international politics but little compassion for those experiencing unspeakable violence. Lord, have mercy.