I was in Toronto this past weekend, sitting at a coffee shop, and the barista asked me, “What’s it like right now in the U.S.?” I replied, “It’s a very sensitive time.”
Indeed, it’s uncomfortable for me to join the conversation in the aftermath of Charlottesville, but I’m realizing that silence is not merely an enemy of mental illness. Our country is sick. We are sick, and it’s as if we are throwing stones from behind defensive walls unable to interact with one another in an appropriate manner, dehumanizing the individual, and making enemies out of fellow citizens. But, we are human, each with the potential for good and evil, and each with an inherent longing for identity, community, and a sense of purpose. With this perspective, perhaps I can be the voice between the walls.
As I reflected on the outrageous happenings in Charlottesville over this past week, I had a deep sense of unsureness. I scoured articles for clarification and understanding, disbelieving the appalling extremist display. I feel heavy, sad, overwhelmed, disappointed. Like many, I watched coverage of the riots from HBO’s Vice and felt physically nauseous by the report as it highlighted racist agendas and a white supremacist perspective. I cannot bear that this is how I am represented as a straight white male.
I Am The Blind Man
If Charlottesville has done nothing else, it has awoken flocks of people to the evolving conflict in our nation and lured them out of the silence. A blind man who miraculously can now see should not be interrogated why he could not see before. He should be celebrated because now he has sight, is able to craft a new perspective, and take the appropriate steps moving forward.
I am that blind man. I have taken full advantage of being a straight white male by avoiding political talk, social discourse, or facing cultural injustices head on. I see now that my silence, my comfortable avoidance of uncomfortable conflict, has been my privilege in action. In this way, by my apathy, I have helped fuel the hatred that Charlottesville showed. And convicted, unable to stand for a Christopher Cantwell or David Duke as my representative, I can’t help but recall the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Or the words of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident during WWII, who said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The Human Potential For Good And Evil
My favorite characters in any story are the ones who blur the lines between good and evil–like those who are bad but are somehow likable, or the protagonist who feels the tug of the devil on his sleeve and we watch him unfold. Inversely, I don’t like characters who are portrayed as inherently rotten to the core or the heroes who never seem to think a bad thought about anybody. It seems elementary to me. I’ve always preferred Batman over Superman because he’s got an edge and a familiarity with the darkness.
Characters portraying the humanistic potential of good and evil is more accurately reflective of real life. In the book, Come Be My Light, The Private Writings Of The “Saint Of Calcutta,” Mother Teresa’s bouts of darkness, depression, and doubt are evident through her personal journaling. The protesters who claimed she should be removed from sainthood because of her internal wrestling are ignorant to the basic essence of humanity. Within each of us lies great potential for either great evil or great good. No one is inherently good. Even Mother Teresa knew the darkness, and even Hitler loved his mother. Not everything is as black and white as we tend to make it in a Hollywood culture.
The Human Search For Identity, Purpose, And Community
I see danger and a lack of reality in attaching ourselves to a meta-narrative between inherent good versus inherent evil as represented in Charlottesville. It is not as simple or as black and white as a romanticized war between good and evil; it is groups of individual vessels of potential, who, at the core, are seeking the same things in opposing spots; identity, purpose, and community.
Among all of the online noise, I ran across an article entitled A Reformed White Nationalist Speaks Out On Charlottesville in which Christian Picciolini responds to the rally:
“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.
If underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? In my case, many years ago, it was abandonment. I felt abandoned, and that led me to this community. But what happens is, because there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers.”
I Am The Broken Man
My first reaction to the tragedy in Charlottesville was Wow, so many men are depressed and don’t even realize it. And I believe that. Often, when I write for Dadding Depressed, I imagine the deeply depressed man who doesn’t yet fully realize his condition and his floundering through life. My hope is that someday he might read an article and recognize that so much of his heartache and the heartache he causes comes from a highly stigmatized and silent killer. I believe that a lot of men are this way and obviously many are misled. They don’t handle their silent struggles appropriately (or even know how), and the struggle rears its head through anything from irritability and numbness to extremist acts or thinking. In a desperate search of identity, purpose, and community, they latch onto an ideology that simply is ugly and downright evil. And what scares me the most is that I can relate to the broken man. I am one. Like the rest of us, I naturally desire identity, community, and a sense of purpose, and I seem to stop at nothing to achieve it. I have great potential for great evil or great good. And in this way, I am no different than anyone else whether throwing stones from the alt-right or from the alt-left.
Now, more than ever, we need to break the barriers between us and people unlike us with everyday conversation between broken vessels, and seek out our basic human needs together while pursuing unity among diversity. We are a diverse people, it is the beauty of our nation, each with the potential for good or evil and with the same basic human needs. Listen to the individual, and speak up against injustice. We need to listen with humility, intentionality, and measure, and it is our responsibility to not remain silent against cultural injustice. (Check out this video here.)
My Response To Charlottesville
Moving forward, I am determined to pursue my great potential for great good, and I realize now I cannot do that on the sidelines. I am deeply broken as I believe we all are, but, as curator of Dadding Depressed, my most effective role is to continue battling the stigmatization of mental illness and subdued struggle in men so that evil might not continue to explode in the diverse faces of society. To my minority friends, it is also my responsibility to listen, to talk, and to stand in solidarity with you in seeking aerial reconciliation and fully realized equality. Too many problems have evolved from silence, whether in the depressed man wallowing in stigmatization or the unaddressed evil bubbling to the surface in rallies and riots while the majority stands by watching. People suffer in silence daily. People are hurting. People need identity, community, and a sense of purpose or else we get taken away by a whirlwind of chaos. We should not be silent in the face of evil. We should not forget our own humanity, our potential for good and evil, or even that of our enemies.
Want to know practical ways you can be a support? Read this article called “How White People Can Support People Of Color Now.”