The tragedy in Orlando has compelled me to think about what we as fellow humans on this planet can do to combat terror and hate. It has brought home the need to create a different and long-lasting environment that immunizes us against bigotry and fear—a climate change if you will. I am reminded of the song from the musical South Pacific: “You have to be taught to hate and fear. You have to be carefully taught.” We learn animosity and prejudice just as easily as we learn mercy and understanding. So we must create a different environment–one that builds walls against prejudice even as it nourishes love, support and caring.
In the early aftermath of a tragedy we find it easy to offer support and condolence that transcends our differences and crosses over the barriers of “us versus them” that we so typically create. But we can’t seem to maintain it over the long term. Our “evil twin” takes over and we return to our usual conversations that are laced with doubt, suspicion, bigotry and fear. What can we do to create a lasting climate change? We can certainly revise our policies regarding gun control or the availability of assault weapons. Why does any civilian EVER need an assault weapon? But for deep and enduring change we must look to our hearts wherein may reside the seeds of hatred and misunderstanding. We need to look to the messages, overt and covert, that we give our children about those who appear to be different. Then we must speak new messages of love and inclusivity over and over until they are written in our hearts and the hearts of our children.
I have been talking about the Internet and its advantages and disadvantages. It occurs to me that whatever its drawbacks may be, it is a remarkably powerful tool that we can use to create and disseminate new and enduring messages of charity and justice for all. It is already a world-wide forum, one that can be used for evil or good. It is so often a repository of the foolish, selfish and show-off sides of our nature that we forget how easily and quickly we can communicate messages of support and caring. I can say with gratitude that my FB newsfeed is alight with positive messages for the Orlando victims, their families and the larger LGBTQ community.
But what if we went further than just the temporary postings in solidarity with the Orlando community? What if we could make the Internet into a positive environment where we could reliably find support, encouragement, even charity? What if we consistently expressed genuine concern and caring or even engineered acts of service and compassion? What if we routinely engaged young people—our own children or others within our sphere of influence—to share an uplifting message every day? What if we took the time to direct them away from their selfies and their sexually explicit videos toward offers of service and expressions of compassion? What if parents challenged their children and themselves to create a different virtual environment, an environment where the norm is about service, long-lasting friendship, and genuine concern for others?
If we are to maintain our horror and our outrage toward hate in any form as well as our compassion and inclusivity toward all humanity, we must create a different word view, one in which we routinely and continuously express our desire to understand those who seem so different but are not. We must continue our bent toward serving others even when a crisis is past. We must engage our young people—the future of our civilization—to do the same. I can think of no better forum than the Internet, already a world-wide phenomenon, in which to extend our minds to encompass our differences, learn from each other and extinguish the fears that can so easily turn into hate. I am confident that my beautiful grand-children possess the creativity and the compassion to do exactly that.
In conclusion I want to quote from my dear daughter-in-law, Jordan Toronto. Her expression of compassion in her post about the Orlando tragedy is a message for us all. She states as follows:
Jesus said, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” And if Jesus isn’t your thing, Sondheim said “No one is alone.” And if Sondheim isn’t your thing… well, go listen to some Sondheim! He’ll teach you about the world. So will Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose words are beacons of hope and light… who said at The Tony’s last night, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is LOVE!” Could it be any simpler than that?
It’s a message that we need to repeat again and again until we believe it!!!
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.