DANIELLE BAXTER

This is a lecture.

I thought to disguise it as some purely artistic piece of prose, but to do so would preclude me from telling you this: there is a lesson here, and it is vitally important. I need you to hear me. You must hear me. All our lives depend on it.

There is only one path.

*****

A rather horrifying moment in our history as a species slipped by us
disguised in our digital revolution
when someone realized they could both manufacture and monetize outrage.

And now, here we are, our outrage weaponized by lethally efficient algorithms.
We, in our arrogance (remember this word), believe ourselves immune.
Only the other is foolish enough to be duped by all this hyper-emotional propaganda,
these conveniently simple quips pasted
on images.
“What brainwashed sheep!” we cry
as we click share on the same fallacies we deny.

We login to our battles,
actors staged with their respective tribes
ready to proclaim to the ether that
they and they alone know the truth,
never realizing that before the first comment was posted
the battle was already lost.

“You’re too emotional about this!” our detractors quickly shriek through their keyboards,
forgetting that emotion is inseparable from thought, casually
(conveniently) ignoring the content of our argument.

And so, what choice do we have but to shriek back?
Even though we know, somewhere in our furious souls,
that what follows the next barrage of bullets we launch
is not victory (and therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? We care about victory)
is not change
but anxiety, frustration, panic
as we wait for the next reply.

Let me interrupt. This is folly of the highest order. (I know this. I have lived it.)

You are passionate, yes? You care about the people you fight to protect?
There is no passion without emotion, and there is no confronting emotion without
trust.

What trust can you possibly have in the theater of social media
where the wolves are always poised in the background
mocking you
laughing at you
ready to strike?

What trust can you have with a stranger?

And yet you continue!
Driving your enemy (the wrong enemy, listen, please)
deeper and deeper into the very ideologies you intend to dismantle!
Harming the very people you sought to defend!

Do you not see?
Have you ever listened to anyone who degraded you,
belittled you, called you stupid, uninformed, brainwashed,
treated you like you were less than human?

“No!” you argue, “they treat others like they’re sub-human!”

We are not talking about them.
We are talking about you.

To assume a person incapable of good intentions,
to assume they intentionally and maliciously seek to do harm,
is to deny them their most basic humanity.

Stop. Listen to me. This is the lesson. (Please, I beg you, listen.)
This war will not be won on a digital battlefield. There is only hate and fear there.

When I ask you to lay down your virtual weapons, I do not ask that you raise a white flag.
I ask that you care more about your mission than your pride.
I ask that you care more about the people you seek to protect than your arrogance.

Those are the chief evils among us: arrogance and pride.
Look to the roots of our conflict; they are there. Always.
Lurking, waiting, intent on our destruction.

We ascribe them to our enemy.
They are arrogant. They are prideful.
Yes, and so are we.

“No!” you scream, “the stakes are too high not to fight these battles with all the fury we can muster on every battleground we can reach!”

You willfully misunderstand me.
I am telling you precisely that the stakes are too high to behave like this,
to treat human beings like this, and why?

Because being mean to strangers is easier than being respectful in conversations with those closest to you?

Because you want to be right? You want to win? You want to look smarter?
You want to publicly humiliate those who disagree with you as though that’s somehow going to change their hearts?

We expect better behavior from children
and then have the audacity to preach about morality.
Enough.

There is only one path forward.
I have studied. I have listened. I have read. I have watched. I know this.

(Please, hear me. Please, remember this. When I said all our lives depend on it, I was deadly serious.)
There is only one path, and it is this.

Empathy. Compassion. Respect.

That is the path. It is the only way forward.
You need only be strong enough to walk it.

Rage and self-righteous indignation are easy.
They are impulse, not intention.

Showing compassion to those we think lack it is difficult.
Empathy for those we morally oppose is draining.
Perhaps the hardest of all though is giving true respect to those we have decided do not deserve it.

The absence of compassion, empathy, and respect is the presence of hatred,
and there is no hope, no future in hate.

I see your fury. (It is my fury, too.)
Let it drive you. Do not let it control you.

Remember the monetization of your outrage.
Remember that no matter which letter they place after their names, they have a financial incentive to fuel our conflict.
Remember that war with those who suffer alongside us prevents us from looking at those who profit on our suffering.
Remember that if you truly seek to reach a soul, you must first understand it, no matter how false you may think its reality.

Remember, my friends, that you are strong enough to look into the faces of those you call evil and seek to understand them, heal them,
love them,
instead of destroying them.

Remember that there is only one path, and all our lives depend on it.

Empathy.
Compassion.
Respect.

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