When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginable pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: We can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage.
We can choose to believe that we are somehow insulated from the realities of these traumas and that our willpower or our strength of character makes us better than these displays of desperation and woundedness. When we seek shelter in the better than – safer than – different than thinking, we are actually choosing fear and that requires us to self-protect and arm ourselves with judgment and self-righteousness.
Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty. Courage is my friend Karen standing up and saying, “I am affected.”
The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability – it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be smart and curious, it means seeking greater understanding. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion.
It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers – even those we think we know – because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs.
Our choices have consequences: They make the world a more dangerous place or they cultivate peace. Fear and judgment deepen our collective wounds. That rare mix of courage and compassion is the balm that brings global healing.
We have two choices. Let’s choose courage. Let’s choose to love despite the fear.