The news of James Foley’s unfathomable decapitation at the hands of ISIS militants had already cast a dark cloud over my day before I even got into work this morning. Before lunchtime hit, I’d already read a handful of articles and seen countless grainy iPhone videos recapping the previous night’s activities from the continued protests and police brutality in Ferguson, MO. Before packing my things for the day, I dropped a few silent tears while reading a letter from Trayvon Martin’s mother to Mike Brown’s mother.
Before I could consciously understand what was happening, I was frustrated and in a bad mood. Angry at the countless injustices of the world. Hoping for retribution for ISIS militants, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Police Department, George Zimmerman and the many other ills that they represent. The irony of a vengeful mentality didn’t happen upon me until I sat down to write…
The time I spent working at Invisible Children was profound for countless reasons. My life focus was altered, my career trajectory changed, my way of thinking was irrevocably challenged, my comfort zone constantly tested and the borders of my family circle were re-drawn.
Perhaps, though, as the memories fade and I lose touch with friends, the most enduring, most tangible gift I’ll have walked away with was something that Jason said when he was asked what he would say to Joseph Kony if he ever had the chance to talk to him. “I’d give him a hug and ask him about his family, his history, his childhood. Eventually I’d ask him ‘why?’”.
The profundity of this statement was simultaneously equal parts lightbulb-worthy simplicity and advanced human empathy far beyond my comprehension. Those thoughts and feelings culminated in an “aha!” moment that I’ve not been able to shake since then. The reality that as human beings, we all have the components of what make Joseph Kony a crazed murderer. We all have the capacity for the unfathomable evil he exhibits.
In Maya Angelou’s episode of Oprah’s “Master Class”, Maya says, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me. If you can internalize at least a portion of that, you will never be able to say of a criminal act, ‘Oh, I could never do that.’ If a human being did it, you have to say, ‘I have all the components in me that are in her or in him. I intend to use my energies constructively, as opposed to destructively.’”
This idea, so foreign yet so powerful, has transformed the way I view people, and view myself, as I continually discover what it is to be a human being.
In the book Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver says, “I believe that the things we dread most can sometimes save us. I am losing faith in such a simple thing as despising an enemy with unequivocal righteousness. A mirror held up to every moral superiority will show its precise mirror image. The terrorist loves his truth as hard as I love mine…we are all beasts in this kingdom, we have killed and been killed, and some new time has come to us in which we are called out to find another way to divide the world. Good and evil cannot be all there is.”
Whether we like it or not, we are more bound, more united, by our humanity than literally anything else. More than our race, our religion, our sex, our ethnicity, our orientation, our sports fandom. By association, that means that I have more in common with Joseph Kony than I’d ever care to admit. Like me, he was born from his mother. Like me, he grew up going to church. Like me, he went to school and did his homework. Like me, he has family and friends who love him.
Ultimately, we’re all made the same. We all have the same parts. We’re all cut from the same cloth. We are comprised in the same way both as Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler. As hard as it is to fathom, I see that very side in myself when I start contemplating revenge for the ISIS fighters and the Darren Wilsons of the moment. That propensity for evil rears its ugly head in the most paradoxical moments to ensure that I don’t forget what I know to be true.
Because I’m a human being, I’ll never cease to form my opinions and take out my frustrations and cry over spilled blood and be angry about injustice. Because I’m a human being, I’ll never stop feeding that desire for vengeance. But because I’m a human being, nothing human can ever be alien to me.