How do I stay curious about the people in front of me who act out in ways that are violent and destructive?
I don’t want to.
I don’t believe I should be forced to.
I am supposed to write something inspirational about curiosity this week, but after the news of the shootings in Christchurch, NZ, I can’t seem to publish the original post. It doesn’t seem fair to praise the power of curiosity when I’m fighting curiosity’s grittier demands.
I’m struggling with this horrible tension: community and curiosity. We will always find spaces where we disagree with one another as we walk through this life together. In fact, we would be on the verge of destruction if we didn’t have healthy conflict between ourselves as people as a larger groups.
Curiosity drives us to be open, to ask ourselves what’s behind are facades and beliefs. It helps us get to the bottom of the issues we face, and supports the growth of compassion and understanding. It’s this healthy nosy-ness that refuses all tidy responses of the superficial, and continues to poke at the depth underneath.
Community satisfies a biological imperative in us as humans: we need each other to survive. When that community becomes so dangerous to our individual persons, we either seek healthier expressions of community or we suffer and perish. Often we live with multiple combinations of both ends of the spectrum.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, nor are they synonyms of one another. Community is all the many spaces where we dwell together; curiosity is our intentional choice to keep learning about one another within these spaces. Healthy community delights in curiosity. Curiosity, in the context of community, gives us a breadth and depth of understanding for each other.
I’m learning that this has grand implications for understanding people of hate and violence. Community is messy. There’s no question about that. It will always be messy because we are imperfect people trying to live our lives the best we can. However, this messiness doesn’t condemn us to live our lives in the constant presence of people who would do us harm.
Community is not a single monolith, thank goodness. It is created of multiple spheres — some larger, some smaller, some imploding, some exploding — all intersecting and forming with one another.
Healthy community gives us perspective on how to be curious about the people who hurt us.
But if I’m honest, I don’t want perspective.
I don’t want hate to thrive. I don’t want to know about violent people other than they are destroyers of worlds.
But if I don’t learn what undergirds the hate, I’ll never truly understand how to stop it. Moreover, I’ll never see us as fully human — flawed and beloved.
As long as I see the New Zealand gunman as only a gunman, I won’t understand the currents of his hatred he inflicted on the people at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques. I won’t know how to dismantle his superiority or privilege.
I won’t know how to see the same superiority and privilege in myself.
The power of this perspective is that I’m challenged to love my enemies. God’s grace is for all of us for all time.
The privilege in this perspective is that it has often been extended to white Christian terrorists, while not being extended to POC, queer folks, or people in poverty. Curiosity becomes warped into a patriarchal weapon that benefits the status quo. Healthy curiosity drives me to learn about all people as whole beings, while exposing my own benefit in unjust systems. This kind of understanding demands action.
The danger in this perspective is how it has sometimes formed the expectation for survivors of abuse and trauma to always face their oppressor or abuser and forgive them.
Community is messy as it is vast.
Curiosity is dark as it is life-giving.
That I need to understand my enemies — and to desire the understand them — is a demanding starting point. Marginalized people groups have known this truth, and have lived this truth for thousands of years. Being curious about those who hate us offers empathy, compassion, and understanding, but at great cost. It demands the oppressed and abused to move through a significant body of pain. And on a personal level, this isn’t always safe or wise.
But the breadth of community allows for many members to take up the life of curiosity. The family and friends of those gunned down in New Zealand may not be able to curious about the shooter, nor should they be compelled to be whatsoever.
But I can be.
I have that distance to be both grieved and shocked at this heinous act of Islamophobia, as well as intentional about learning about the shooter. As a human being. As a person enacting white supremacy, privilege, and power. As a person with hopes, dreams, and wonder. If I paint him in a single dimension now in my anger and pain, I’ll find retribution but not justice.
This curiosity can enlighten me to see Islamphobia — and racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism, and all these accepted microaggressions — in everyday conversations, in the media, in churches, in workplaces, and around the dinner table. But it only extends so far to illuminate. I still need to choose to act.
It’s a painful tension to hold in these fractured times.
I still don’t want to be curious.
I feel I shouldn’t have to be.
The New Zealand shooter doesn’t deserve it.
But the gift of curiosity, when used with love and compassion, can dismantle single-dimensional caricatures; it can break privilege apart, and move folks towards understanding.
I realise all to well in this moment that I have to choose it. Right now, it’s a hard choice to make.