On Shootings in Florida, and What is Wrong with the World: An Open Letter

Dear Fellow American—Friend, Brother, Sister; Mother, Father, Daughter, Son:

There is a story told by one of my favorite writers and thinkers. It goes something like this:

Q. Is it true that The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” 

A. Chesterton responded:

Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.

There is no other place that I know to begin in thinking about the state of the culture today—besides the truth that we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

We have forgotten—you, and I, and the rest around us, too—and, in forgetting, we have let time and history pass, and bring us to where we are now: A culture of strangers, numb, dead inside, monsters-in-the-unfolding because we do not feed each other what we need.

We have forgotten how to look, and how to truly see the other.

We were made to be seen, and to be known.

Do you know the gaze of the one in front of you? Have you stopped to penetrate it, and to understand what it means for you to be dependent on them, and they on you? To know yourself through them, because you cannot know yourself in a vacuum; to concretize your own existence by your encounters, every encounter with another teaching you something about yourself, reminding you that you are, and that you are good; to be reflected to something of yourself, in the other.

Have you spoken a kind word, softly, to the one besides you—have you greeted them, and bid them goodbye? Can you see the burden they carry, and the way that burden writes itself into their skin, their tense back, their worn hands?

How can you possibly think that gun violence is a matter of the law alone?

How is it that we have come to a place in which the thought of picking up a gun, and directing it at the other—at their heart, their brain, their chest, their body — was something that did not take the breath of every single human person away, like a punch in the chest because we have one of each of those capacities, too? How is it that this thought has numbed us—even us who stand on the victim line, as if the depth of deadness is so deep we feel we can do nothing to resurrect our mutual humanity?

How is it that we do not love our kids with a presence of love to soften them, to shape their kindness, to ensure they do not bully and do not draw boundaries between themselves and those different? To make sure that our own kids can recognize love of the most authentic kind? The kind that binds people together in mutual responsibility and subjectivity, and becomes the foundation upon which everything else is built: families, governments, schools, universities, clinics, you-name-it?

To make sure that we and our kids have love carved so deeply in us that the thought of hurt, in any shape or form, even the smallest unforgiveness, the smallest snide remark, the smallest sign of disrespect, and judgment cast without love, could not be imagined.

How is it that we do not understand that the anger that arises in us, when our own mothers and fathers fail to love us well, when we are bullied, when the government fails to take action before a massive implosion, is an energy that demands to be healed in us—and that we must learn to ask for help, and must learn to give help, to offer it even when it is not asked for?

I beg you, from the depths of my heart: Relearn encounter.

Relearn friendship.

Relearn the bond that we share because we are human at every moment we exist—from the moment we come into existence, to the moment that we die, for we could not be human if it weren’t for the humanity of those who came before us.

You owe it to yourself, and to every other.

Advocate for the dignity of the human person, in every way, at every moment—in schools, in clinics, in your families.

There is no room, at this time, in this place, to withdraw—rather, it is time for war, for a revolution, to push back against everything in us that is broken, and to breathe new life.

WYA condemns this attack, and all others that violate the dignity of the human person, and stands in solidarity with its victims and those affected. No person has the right to inflict harm on another in this manner, and to do so is to violate the very foundation of one’s own humanity.

Written by Weronika Janczuk, WYA North America regional director.