October 11, 2016

Why Hurt People Hurt People.


“Later that night I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

~ Warsan Shire

I learned about the Orlando shooting just before I went to bed last night in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

As alert banners chimed on my phone telling of an increasing death toll, I felt a stab of heartache with each update. What do we do with that feeling? When rage visits us? When fear and insecurity come into our night clubs, our communities, and into our hearts? As mindful people, striving for an awake and aware world, we have to constantly begin with ourselves.

There’s a saying in Buddhism, “Those who cause suffering are suffering.”

There’s a story that asks us to imagine we’re walking through the woods when we see a dog. We go to pet the dog and he launches at us, biting and growling. At first, we are upset, angry at the dog. Then we see the dog’s leg is in a trap and our anger turns to compassion and understanding. That doesn’t mean we let the dog attack us, but it means we understand his aggression.

It was interesting this morning to discuss the Orlando shooting with my fellow travelers. One Irish woman wanted to know how America has not passed laws to make it more difficult to buy guns. If she wanted to buy a gun in Dublin, she wouldn’t know the first step.

An Australian man agreed, saying that murder surely happens in his country, but it’s interpersonal. Nothing like America. His opinion was that America doesn’t take care of the mentally ill and makes it possible, “for hurt people to hurt people.”


We then boarded a van to tour one of the Killing Fields from the Khmer Rouge; and later a prison that had been converted from an elementary school where political prisoners were tortured.

These massacres were so recent that human bones are still visible on the dirt pathways at the Killing Fields. That same Australian man pointed out a jaw bone under our feet on the walking path.

It was a sunny, peaceful hot day here today. As we walked past the gallows at the prison (which were not used to hang people to death, but rather to tie their arms behind their backs and hang them until they fainted then dipped their heads in sewage water to wake them only to be tortured again and again) the woman next to me said, “I bet this was a beautiful school.”

I’m sure it was. Both the prison and the mass graves were closed in 1979.

So what do the Cambodian people do with this? This rage, this suffering. This place where the hurt lives so deeply. Some are enraged but—as was explained by both the tour guide and also museum guide—they believe in the Buddhist teaching that everyone is suffering. Revenge would create a circle and peace would never come. They ask—how is my family’s killer’s leg caught in a trap?

This, at least, helps me when I think of someone killing 49 people in my country, in my beautiful LGBTQ community. I’m of course heartbroken. But this teaching invites all beings who suffer (that is, all beings) to see the suffering of one another.

There is a connection and healing in knowing that the shooter in Orlando must have been hurting so deeply to be brought to Pulse that night and decide that taking lives was something he wanted to do with his.

Where does it hurt? Everywhere.


Author: Ashley Medley

Image: lucahennig/Flickr

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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