Writing has not come easily this weekend. Like many, I've been preoccupied with the attacks in Paris, following the headlines and conducting my own research into the problems with ISIS and Syria, trying to process the what, who and why, and the what next.
In the wake of tragedies, such as the ones in Paris, and major political events (legislation, Presidential debates, State of the Union addresses), I watch the reactions on social media. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the modern-day soap box, the national (and sometimes international) town square: people exercise their freedom of speech there through what they post, like, and share.
I turn to social media because my news feed provides an immediate snapshot of the ideas and opinions circulating the country in a given moment. From there--and this step is crucial--I can do my own research into the theories behind the thoughts to form my own educated opinion. The process can be brutal, because social media platforms can also breed ignorance. Memes are fictionalized to elicit the strongest emotional response from the viewer, internet trolls antagonize in the comment sections of posts that go viral (an apt phrase, don't you think?), and people express their impulses in real time, often without considering the implications of the words that they choose.
It's this last habit that I find the most heartbreaking.
It is not a coincidence that the excerpts from religious texts that are quoted to justify extremist violence contain the same words used in cries for swift retaliation. It is not a coincidence that the objections raised against same-sex marriage echo those used to reject interracial relationships during the Civil Rights Era. It is not a coincidence that words and actions we teach children to identify as bullying are the same ones we use when voicing our discontent with leadership. Hatred sounds the same no matter who speaks it.
Please, form your opinions about the difficult challenges facing our society, and share them. In one way or another, the ideas expressed by the public shape the momentum of our world. But take note of how the words you choose to express those opinions might perpetuate hatred and ignorance. The words exist to express outrage without verbal abuse. The words exist to voice your ideas without diminishing another's humanity. Learn them. Use them.
I've read/listened to the poem "The Two Trees" by W.B. Yeats many times before. It seems especially salient now. Sometimes I like to read the second stanza (in bold below) first, and end with the beginning.
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with merry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
There the Loves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways;
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the winged sandals dart,
Thine own eyes grow full of tender care:
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.
Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old,
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro.
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.