If you’re above the age of fifteen, you’ve probably lost count of the amount of tragedies you’ve lived through. That’s unfortunately the America we live in today (and could be the America we’ve always lived in). 9/11, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, the Boston Massacre immediately come to my mind and now Orlando always will too.
I was out in downtown Orlando Friday night (the night before the tragedy). A friend rented a hotel only a mile and a half from Pulse. We went out to some other bars, crashed at the hotel and then left the next morning. By that afternoon, I was texting a friend my feelings about the night.
On the night of the massacre, my brother was out in downtown Orlando. I got snapchats from him and a friend at some bar or club before I went to bed. I woke up to the news of the shooing that occurred and kept my cool as I checked his snapchat story. From the looks of it, he had been out, but then went to some lake away from downtown after. I texted him anyways just to make sure.
My to-the-point text aside, my flesh and blood was alright. I did a round of check-ups on some other friends in Orlando that I knew. I smiled as the pile of names I recognized grew on the Facebook check-in application.
But as my news got better, the rest got worst. The information came in like waves of an earthquake. 49 were dead, not 20. The club had been a gay bar and the attack had been a hate crime. The shooter had been an American citizen who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. Boom. Boom. Boom.
It shook us all. People from presidential candidates to random guys from your middle school took to social media to express their thoughts, share articles, ask for prayers, mourn, and spread love.
As the days went on, I gathered my own thoughts. I tried reading as much I could on the attack. Tried seeing things from as many perspectives as I could. I thought long and hard about my feelings towards gun ownership, mental health, and national security. I thought about what the LGBTQ community might be going through. A blog post began to form in my head and I began writing one.
For the most part, I liked what I wrote (most of the time, I do), but then I got a text from my gym buddy. He said he couldn’t make a session because he was having a rough week. Problems with a girl, family or school immediately came to my mind, not the Orlando tragedy.
He was not gay, from Orlando, or knew victims. No. But he told me that as a Muslim, he didn’t like how the event was reflecting on him and his people and he was having difficulties seeing the things on social media that he was seeing. It was something I hadn’t even fathom.
The idea that the words of others were affecting him in such a way that he didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym and spotting my bench press shook me even more. The fact that I didn’t even think about how he might feel following the tragedy shook me too. Insensitive post began to shine brighter on my timeline and newsfeed. I reviewed the words I had typed up and deleted them all.
If the news were earthquake waves then the insensitivity in some of the responses were aftershocks that I didn’t want to take part in. All of it left me with the question, what could I possibly say? Should I say anything?
I thought more about Orlando. I thought about how the city has Disney World, the most magical place on Earth. I thought about the theme parks, the ideals they project, and the movies that do the same. I thought about one of their most recent films, Zootopia.
If you haven’t seen it or could use a reminder, the movie tells the story of a rabbit named Judy Hopps. She dreams of being a big-time officer in the city, but due to prejudice thinking she is regulated to parking duty. To make a long movie short, with the help of her historically-predatory fox friend Nick, Judy is able to overcome some prejudice thinking and save the day.
But it’s a scene about two-thirds away of the way through the film that rang out to me as I was thinking about the Orlando tragedy. In the movie, Judy speaks at a press conference and expresses a biological cause to how predatory animals (the minorities in the film, as they make up 10% of the population) might act. In her mind, she is simply saying something that is fact and not a big deal. But her words push her friend Nick away and help spread fear throughout the city that all predator animals are savages.
The parallels to our own society are almost too easy to point out. But if you haven’t seen the movie, missed the message, or still can’t quite pick it up despite my helpful summaries, I’ll tell you (without spoiling the ending) that one of the lessons isn’t to give up guns or give one to everyone, to put up borders or bring everyone in, to spread fear or act like nothing is a big deal.
It’s simple. It’s to treat others with love and respect and kindness, and try to be sensitive to others feelings, outlooks on life, religions, and words, without prejudging anyone or a group of people, while always realizing that despite differences we cannot only just coexist, but we can thrive and reach heights we’ve never dreamed of, be you Muslim, gay, Christian, conservative, liberal, a gun owner, etc.
Okay. That’s a mouthful. I think Judy Hopps may have said it better in the movie… It’s why I always refer to Disney…
“…life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.”
I repeat, “The more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try.”
I believe trying to understand one another is something we can all do a better job at. In the wake of this tragedy, understanding the different communities affected like the victims, their families and friends, the city of Orlando, the LGBTQ community, and even the Muslim community who are wrongly being tied into the acts of a lunatic, can help us come out stronger and may most help us avoid such tragedies in the future.
Surely this lunatic who committed these horrific acts never once thought to try.
So, as Judy said, change starts with us. Here I am trying. Trying to understand others. Trying to empathize with everyone affected. Trying to love everyone as I do my gym buddy. I implore you to try, too. I believe it’s what Judy Hopps would’ve wanted and the city so closely tied to Disney would too.