This week, I watched the tragedy in New Zealand unfold; yet more violence committed in the name of “white supremacy.”

I watched the tally update the statistics of mass shootings, showing yet again the plain reality that the overwhelming majority are carried out by white men.

Here at home, I heard some ugly, ugly words surrounding our state finally ending the shameful use of a culture as a mascot.

I thought about something my mother once said when I looked to her for a reason for why bullies could not simply stop being awful. She said “Well, Heather, when you hop on the back of a tiger, it’s awfully hard to know how to get off.”

She meant that once you’ve corrupted your relationship with another and put yourself in a position of abusive power over them, you don’t know how to relinquish that power without becoming the victim to the very situation you created. And if you own that it was wrong to hop on the back in the first place, you also have to somehow deal with the shame of what you did.

I am not anti-white, nor am I anti-male. What I am is against the concepts of “supremacy,” misogyny, and degradation of others. As the meme going around a while back put it: “Food is great, toxic food will kill you. It’s the toxic part, not the food, that’s the problem.”

We need to tackle the toxic.

Extensive outside research and my own experience conclude: People who are comfortable with who they are and genuinely like themselves don’t hurt others. The world is full of warm, gentle souls who are struggling with self acceptance. I’d wager that in varying degrees, and depending on the day, that includes most of us. I’ll raise my hand to that. Even among those who are struggling profoundly, the use of violence towards others is, thankfully, rare.

However, a profound lack of self-worth is the fundamental base element in the awful alchemy of violence, and so it is there I see the most potential for impact.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not at all conflicted about the fact that these are crimes and those responsible must be punished by law. But punishment is not the goal. Ending the violence is the goal. Punishment is appropriate and necessary following an act of hate, but it’s not enough. We need to prevent the next one.

If the epidemic of hate we are witnessing is indeed the panic thrashes of fear combined with shame, then that’s where our work is. We need to discover answers to some mighty big questions.

How do we face the wrongs of our history without flinching? How do we begin the hard, painful work of owning our past, without becoming so overwhelmed by the shame of it that we turn away and refuse to see? How do we learn to hear another speak the truth of their pain without interpreting it as an attack to be countered?

How do we hop off the tiger?

One source of inspiration is the work being done in Sierra Leone. There’s a documentary (and a book) about it called “Fambul Tok.” It’s worth watching. If a nation ravaged by brutal civil war and genocide can map a path back to wholeness, so can we.

I have faith in the process, I have faith in all of us, I have faith in my community. Let us all get to work.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected].

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