How we should respond to acts of mass violence

I feel incredibly distraught over the shootings that happened in Christchurch last night. I’m sure many others are unsettled as well. Two close friends that I was having dinner with last night said that they won’t be visiting the Melbourne CBD anytime soon (they live in the suburbs). I can relate to their sense of terror, and feeling like public spaces are not safe anymore.

If someone like me who isn’t Muslim or geographically close to Christchurch at the time of the attack, feels this disturbed, I can only imagine what my Muslim and Kiwi brothers and sisters are going through right now. Earlier today I attended a rally protesting Islamophobia in the city. Some people were weeping openly, and the sense of grief was palpable.  It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to potentially be targeted for murder solely on the basis of your religious beliefs. The acts of one person can cause so much suffering around the world.

I couldn’t help but spend a bit of time thinking about what causes people to commit acts like this. And while obviously things are complex and there aren’t simple explanations to why these incidents happen, I believe a large part of why the attack happened is because the perpetrator believed, on a fundamental level, that the people (if he even thought of them as people) he killed were different from him, and that their interests, values and goals are fundamentally at odds with his own. In the document the terrorist in question posted (I won’t go into too much detail because I am personally in two minds about whether or not the material should be read or not) went on about Islam “taking over” European/”white” lands and that being a huge issue. And that really strikes me as something that only someone who doesn’t have many friends would say. Because if you go out there and actually talk to people, especially those who ostensibly seem different from you, you realise that we are pretty much the same. We all want to be healthy. We all have dreams. We all struggle with issues. We all want to be happy. We all want to be part of a community that loves us and keeps us safe. We all want to love and be loved, and to feel like we made a difference during our short time on this planet. There are far more things we have in common with each other than the things that separate us.  Your happiness is my happiness, and mine yours.

That is also to say that the shooter probably lived an incredibly isolated and painful life, so devoid of any other sources of meaning and purpose that he felt that the most important and meaningful thing he could do with his life was to shoot up a mosque full of strangers he didn’t know.  This is a person with so few meaningful social connections that the only people he could discuss his plans with were anonymous strangers on message boards, and had no one else to talk to besides the faceless void he livestreamed the shooting to. Is it easy to feel compassion for this person? Probably not. But does this person still deserve compassion? Yes. My teacher in secondary school who was my public speaking coach always reminded me that people who deserve love the least need love the most. Because as much as all of us feel angry and sad and so, so exhausted, the only way we can stop cycles of violence and conflict is to empathise and understand those we perceive to be our worst enemies, for that faint glimmer of hope that they will one day return the favour. Love, peace and intimacy all require us to be vulnerable, to trust, even if that trust might sometimes be undeserved.

So yeah. Be kind to a stranger, and let them know that they are loved. Because even if it might not be obvious, our fates are so intractably linked to one another.

May you all be well.

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Limbo, anxiety and being stuck

I think I first started developing anxiety when I started university. I would just spend hours and hours watching Starcraft in my dormitory room and pass entire days that way barring going out for dinner and lunch. I never used to think of that being a symptom of anxiety, but it seems fairly obvious to me now. I was scared and anxious being in a new social environment, and I would just watch videos as a form of escape from the uncertainty of the real world. The uncertainty on the screen I could actually control, and there was a narrative structure that was familiar and repeated in every video. It was easy and comfortable to just turn on my computer and type in “you…” to go to that same familiar website and to look at content that pretty much the same as what I watched the day before, but marginally different enough to trigger my brain’s novelty receptors. Unfortunately that is also how I developed a reliance on watching videos as a means of escape.

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If everyone in the world were to be divided into people into (1) people who are angry, and (2) people who are scared, I would very comfortably fit into the second category. I’ve always been a jumpy person – I am very easily startled (even today), and I’ve always had a tendency to deal with conflict by avoiding it, rather than escalating the conflict. Since i was a child, I always have had a very instinctual urge to hide – whenever my parents would come back home from lunch I would immediately find a spot (behind the door? behind the sofa?) to hide. I still have those tendencies today. Another thing that absolutely terrifies me is conflict. I can’t have a verbal argument with someone else to save my life, and anyone even mildly raising their voice at me sets me on edge. One of the most terrifying experiences I have had in recent times is when someone I was close to shouted at me for a few minutes over something I had done. I felt so terrified that I could hardly believe that what I was experiencing was real life. I kept wishing that everything I was going through was a dream. Weird, really, imagining a 25 year old adult man just crouched over on a bed quivering from fear. Seems strange to think about it but it did happen, but it really did, and thinking about the incident still makes my palms sweat.

It’s kind of surprising that it took me so long to realise that I have issues with fear and anxiety. For one, I’ve always known that some members of my family, whether in my immediate or extended family, display traits that a stereotypically associated with anxiety. I suppose it’s always easier to recognise things (especially negative or undesirable things) in other people rather than yourself. I’m even a little anxious writing this blog post right now, because I am still quite self-conscious about how my writing comes across, even though I am less self-conscious than I used to be.

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This is all to say that the past 2 years of my life have been particularly stressful and anxiety-inducing for me. Between graduating and the uncertainty over finances, my ability to get a visa, repeatedly failing language tests that I *should* have been able to pass on the first try, managing a relationship, worrying about jobs, worrying about jobs and worrying about jobs, I’ve slowly felt my sanity fray at the edges and unravel in ways I never thought possible. Managing all that while trying to maintain a regular social life and keep up the appearance that everything was sort of fine was exhausting to say the least.

I’m not even sure where this piece of writing is meant to go. I didn’t really start writing this any form or structure or purpose in mind. Am I better right now? Sort of? I’m trying out new things and I’m trying to rebuild my confidence on a daily basis. I’m taking my medication, trying to exercise regularly and trying to eat well again. Am I confident that things will be better in the future? I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to let anyone who reads this and is going through something even remotely similar to what I’m experiencing that you are not alone, and that it is okay to not feel okay.

Learning to ask

I have come to realise that I’m not very good at asking for things, even things I really need (e.g money, help, favours). Upon some reflection and soul-gazing, I suspect this is a consequence of a number of beliefs:

  • Believing that if someone truly cares and knows you, asking for help is unnecessary because they should understand your wants and needs without you having to communicate with them;
  • Believing that asking for help less means that you are a strong, independent person;
  • Believing that I do not deserve help;
  • Believing that asking for help makes me a burden to the person from whom I request help;
  • Being afraid that I will be rejected.

I don’t think these things are true anymore. Asking for help is granting the opportunity to someone else to feel valued, useful and connected. So it’s a win-win for everyone really!

Hello world!

I write this passage with a lot of trepidation but also a lot of excitement because
I am taking the first few steps in a long time to actually start writing again. I actually have a physical smile on my face – this is surreal and so exciting and all the words blah blah blah

Anyway, hello everyone! And most of all, hello me! I look forward to saying more things here soon 🙂

Back

Did you know that the most attractive part of you
is your back?

It is supple, simple
but most importantly,
Strong

It is the sort of back
that I wouldn’t mind following
down a trail in a leafy, green forest
through a busy, cramped corridor
or onto a bridge arching across a still, brown river
even if the bridge is in the middle of nowhere.

Your back always seems to have direction
in a directionless world.
It moves forwards ever so swiftly, gracefully and consistently
never turning back
even if it occasionally pauses and rests.

But there is a price to always being behind you.
It means we never face each other
and exchange emotions
honestly and fearlessly
as equal friends do.

It means that we rarely walk side by side
to a common destination
however much I cherish those journeys.

The most attractive part of you is your back,
but I wish I knew more of you.

[First time I have written a poem in a long time. I seriously underestimated how emotional and difficult the writing process is. But the catharsis and release is worth it.]

Forgetting

Sometimes when I think about all the things I used to know, I feel a little bit sad. My Mandarin used to be proficient, and I used to have a comprehensive knowledge of Richard Feynman’s life, as a result of reading multiple biographies on him. The knowing of those things in themselves felt good, even though the content itself isn’t exactly relevant or useful in my life right now.

There’s something sad about putting effort in reading and gathering knowledge, only to have it disappear eventually. What I retain is nothing but vague hints and gestures at what should be there, but isn’t. And let’s not even start on the things that I have forgotten that I’ve forgotten (or ‘unknown unknowns’ in Rumsfeldian terms).

Will all this learning be worth it?

A Statement of Intended Character

  1. I will be humble and empathetic in my treatment of others, whether in my words, thoughts or actions.
  2. I will never be quick to anger.
  3. I will treat happiness and my mental well-being my top priority in a situation where trade-offs have to be made.
  4. I will have a resilient and positive mind, which expounds that which is good, and seeks to minimise the bad.
  5. I will be honest of my feelings to myself and others – nothing should be a source of shame.
  6. I will love and appreciate those who love and appreciate me the most.
  7. I will make good all my promises.