Much ink and many pixels have been spilled over the trickle of information that’s been coming out about the police response at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Many have talked about the concept that nobody is coming to save you; you are on your own to defend yourself. That is true, but before we can truly grasp what that means and what we should do about it, there’s something else we have to understand first:
We need to see the world as it is, not as we wish it would be or that we think it should be or that we believe it could be.
It is not that we should not dream, should not hope, should not strive and work towards a community and life that matches our visions. We may never achieve them because humans are human and aren’t all alike at heart, and we may need to compromise them because we co-exist with others who may see other paths to similar ends. Still, it is worthy and noble to seek to improve the world in which we exist. Small changes within our circles are often achievable, even cultural shifts among the groups we are closest with. It becomes progressively harder as we try to reach more and more people, especially those with whom we may have little in common. However, even if we are able to transform society, it will take time – years, perhaps, even decades.
It is not that we should not look, and look hard, for the good around us, for the glimmers of what we would like to see more widespread. The examples we admire may not be as prevalent as we would prefer. We should appreciate them when we find them, because it shows us that what we wish for is possible. Or they may be the majority, and remind us that what we dislike is rare. Changing over the entire world may not be possible. We are, after all, part of a diverse group of individuals with differing experiences, priorities, and goals. But we can find commonalities, areas of agreement, spaces where what we want overlap. We may disagree about how important each is, and how to get there, while still enjoying where we are the same. An optimistic, rose-colored view can keep hope alive, and that is no bad thing.
In the meantime, we are here now. No change happens overnight, least of all changes in the very structure of ourselves and our societies. Some changes will never be, because human nature dictates so or because the natures of our disagreements may not allow them to occur or because we must accept trade-offs and risks. We could argue about whether that is good or bad, or how far we should go to impose the reality we wish existed, or whether it is or even should be possible, but none of that immediately affects the reality that does exist now. It is vital that we recognize the world as it is. We must understand the starting point from where we will seek our dreams, and we must survive until we achieve them. And we must acknowledge that they may not be for us, and that our energy is better spent making the best of where we are today.
The world as it is can be an ugly place. It can include horrible people, doing horrible things. It can include people in hero costumes who turn out not to be. It can be sad and frightening and frustrating and enraging. Yet, for the moment, it is what we have and it is what we must prepare for in the short term. It is hard to acknowledge that, to turn away from working towards the future we dream about to deal with the present we live in. It is necessary, though, because we can’t wish away evil and see it gone. It can be impossible for us to understand, to step into the shoes and minds of those who have acted in terrible ways, even just to catch a glimpse of what they were thinking or doing. It doesn’t matter. We simply have to know that they did those things, and what we can do about it right now, right here.