I'm struggling to find the words for what I want to say, and yet I know that I want, and need, to say something. Like everyone, I have been shocked, and horrified, and saddened, at some of the events of the past few weeks. Some truly terrible things have happened. I have wept as I've watched the news, as I'm sure you have too. I have turned on the TV, or looked at social media and though "no... not again... not another tragedy."
Many excellent blogs and articles have been written on some of those tragic events, by people much wiser than me. I don't want to write about the events themselves, awful as they are. I pray for everyone involved - for peace, for healing, for comfort, for grace, for hope. And yet what I actually have been mostly thinking about over the last day or so, and what I want to try to blog about, is "our" reaction - how we, the public, have responded and reacted to these dreadful events.
Of course, in doing that, I run the risk of making huge generalisations. Obviously there have been a variety of responses, and I will only have personally come across a handful of them. (I'm aware also that in commenting on what I see as some very negative reactions, I run the risk of doing the very thing that I want to discuss and critique - I will try to steer clear of that risk!).
I think, though, that what has struck me the most, again and again, as each new tragedy has unfurled (and in the EU referendum debate, which is obviously in a different category, but nonetheless has been all over every form of media recently), is the way in which people have responded. (Again, I'm referring of course to the negativity - I do appreciate that there have also been (some) moments of beauty and kindness...).
As I have reflected on all this, a phrase came to me this morning - if the events of the last month or so had been a test of our humanity, we'd have failed. (For the avoidance of doubt, and to see off any obvious arguments, I am NOT saying they are 'a test' of any kind - but please allow me the metaphor for the moment).
What do I mean by this? Well, do any of the following look or sound familiar?
The EU Referendum campaign is underway and of course feelings and opinions are strong. Passions are running high. It's right that different views are shared online and in person. This matters. It's a massive issue and one which will have profound implications for our country for generations to come. We live in a democracy, thank God - we're all able to speak and to vote freely and we can be certain that the vote will be done fairly and the result enacted properly. I urge everyone eligible to vote - it is a freedom and a privilege that many have been and are denied.
And yet... some of the things I have heard people say, in person and on TV and on social media, have shocked and horrified me. The way individual people - not opinions, not viewpoints, actual people - have been vilified and disparaged has been quite awful. [Don't get me wrong - some of the 'official' people within the campaign have done things that have horrified me too, and I believe both in allowing free speech and in calling out hatred and prejudice. But always, these are people. Real, human people.]
The same could be true of the US election campaign. I personally know less about the issues involved there, of course, and obviously I don't get a vote - but again, the ways in which people (on all sides, and at all levels) are speaking of, to and about one another, is horrifying.
This week we've also seen, of course, a dreadful hate crime - a horrifying attack on an LGBTI nightclub in Orlando. And we've seen the senseless, brutal murder of a woman who dedicated her life to helping ordinary local people, refugees and asylum seekers, those living in poverty - a murder which leaves a man widowed and two small children without a mother.
There have been awful responses to those two events too, I'm sad to say. Some of the things I've heard or read about them have caused me to shake my head in despair. Some have simply been vile - comments coming from a place of ignorance, hatred and prejudice. But some have been more subtle in their horror - the comments which at first sight seem sympathetic, but actually are seeking to win political points, to in some way capitalise on the grief and the torment.
What has happened to us as a society? Is social media in some way to blame? Perhaps, though of course that cannot explain it all. I am a single extrovert who lives alone - I love social media! I love to interact with others through it, to share my views, to read and listen to others'. But perhaps we're in danger of becoming too anonymous this way, too far removed from the issue itself, and from the people with whom we're debating. Perhaps it's too easy to forget the issue involves real people, and those with whom we're speaking are also human, with lives, and families, and friends, and hopes, and dreams, and feelings.
Is the actual media to blame - the press, journalists, newspapers? Again, perhaps in part. Some of the headlines I have read have made me feel sick. The journalists involved are culpable here. Today I have seen a number of tweets posting photos of some of the recent tabloid headlines, suggesting that by reading so much hate in this way, 'we' (society) come to feel and to express hate as a result. I think to an extent this must be true - for some people the only way they engage with news and world affairs is by reading one newspaper. per day or per week. If that newspaper irresponsibly spews out vile hatred and prejudice, the person reading will inevitably be influenced by that. What can be done to better regulate the nastiness and bias of some of our print media?
And yet even if 'media' is in some way to blame, that cannot be the whole story. We are grown ups. We all make our own decisions. We have all been brought up with values of some kind. We all exist together in this society. We all mix day by day with a whole mixture of different people with whom we might agree or disagree. We must take responsibility for our words, or actions, or views. We must consider the effect that the things that we do and say and write will have on the people around us. We must remember that other people are, well, people - human beings just like us, worthy of respect and kindness.
I pray that if it's possible for some good to come out of the horrors the world has experienced in these past days, and out of the roller coaster surrounding the EU Referendum, whatever its eventual outcome, that it might be this - that we would all be a bit kinder, a bit more patient, a bit more gracious, a bit more ready to listen and to love.
As Brendan Cox said in his remarkable statement following his wife's death: we must now "unite to fight against the hatred that killed her."
The hatred must not win. We must overcome it with our humanity.