The Orlando Mass Shooting and a Crisis of Connection
When I heard the news about the mass shooting in Orlando, I was still on a weekend yoga retreat. It was a jarring juxtaposition – a group of women in upstate New York were celebrating abundance and joy at the same time a man in Florida was committing acts of destruction and hate. At one point in the retreat we chose a partner and meditated for five minutes while maintaining eye contact. It is an intensely uncomfortable experience at first, but ultimately one of deep connection to another human being. Did the killer in Orlando look any of his victims in the eye? Did he ever pause to notice their humanity?
It is difficult to capture the complexity of responding to a situation like the tragedy in Orlando. People have noted that the killer, Omar Mateen, attacked a gay club on Latin night, thus targeting both the LGBTQ community and Latinos. He is reported to be an Islamic state sympathizer, which heightens the fear of Islamic radicalism in some, and the fear of a xenophobic, anti-Islamic backlash in others. The guns he used renew debate over gun control, which for me recalled Obama’s appearance on PBS NewsHour less than two weeks ago in which recounted his frustration that current laws prohibit the CDC from studying gun deaths; how can we address a problem we don’t understand?
Yet there is a root cause of all these issues – homophobia, racism, xenophobia, mass violence – and it is our denial of others’ humanity. At what point did the shooter in Orlando lose his capacity to recognize the humanity in Edward Sotomayor, Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Luis S. Vielma, KJ Morris and his other victims? Or in his own wife, whom he allegedly abused? Human brains are wired to feel empathy for others. We are naturally competitive, but also naturally collaborative and caring. That is not a skill we need to be taught, instead it is a capacity we learn to suppress. In the case of Mateen, he learned his lesson all too well. Brock Turner also learned that lesson, as demonstrated by his treatment of the woman he sexually assaulted when she was unconscious. Donald Trump daily expresses his lack of compassion for fellow humans, even his fellow Americans, via disparaging comments about women, people of Mexican descent, people of the Muslim faith, and others.
It is important to recognize the root issue of the Orlando mass shooting. Yes we should stand behind the calls for protecting the life and liberty of LGBTQ people and working toward gun control legislation, but we should also ask for more than that. We need to work together to address the crisis of connection, to retain and regain our capacity for empathy and love; otherwise the weeds of hatred, violence, and abuse will continue to grow and spread.
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