I've been thinking about Looters.
It’s so easy to say, “How ridiculous. Why would I care what they think or feel, they’re destroying their own cities. They don’t even care about their own homes.” It’s easy to think of them the way our President described them - as “THUGS.”
I’ve thought that way before. It’s clear. It’s simple. It requires no context.
And it's very tricky isn't it, because there's more than one type of looter. There are those who are exploding with anger and rage. There are those who are opportunistic, taking advantage of tragedy for the sake of some new gear. And there are also people who've experienced no victimization, who loot in order to incite hatred against the people who have, thereby further victimizing them. As I write this, I'm thinking mostly about those whose anger has boiled over into destroying property.
Something struck me, as I’ve been seeing the images and videos. Something…connected. I identified with the looters, even though I’m a white guy in his 30s who’s never been a victim of racism.
I identified with the feeling.
And when my wife, a therapist, observed that looting was a form of coping, it was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. LOOTING = COPING. And coping destroys relationship, the fabric of our society.
You know what? I identify deeply with that coping strategy. For myself, I call it despairing loudly. It’s an ANGER response that says, In essence, “Fuck this whole thing. I’m going to tear it all down.” And I’ll just admit right now, sometimes it feels good to feel that way.
When I feel it, I literally WANT to break things. My OWN things. Things I like; things I worked hard for. Doesn’t matter. I want to see it in shambles, because at least then it will match the way I feel and then I can just wallow in the misery of it all.
And do I do it? No, I don’t. Because what I’m dealing with is maybe a frustrating day or week. It’s not years. It’s not generations.
Let me be clear: coping isn’t healthy, and the looting isn’t good. This is pain-fueled self-destruction. It’s not something to cheer on.
But it’s very human. And it’s much deeper than the easy assumptions that the people doing it don’t care. They care. But they’re in pain. Looting is the destructive relief valve.
As my wife has helped me understand, it’s very hard to recognize that someone is feeling pain when that pain is being expressed through anger. But it’s pain. And the antidote to pain isn’t judgment, it’s compassion. It’s Grace. It’s pushing past our knee-jerk, arm-chair “Well, ya know what I think?!” reactivity and taking a long hard, compassionate look at the pain these people have been enduring.
Does this absolve them of their actions? No. We’re still responsible for how we behave when we’re coping.
But if all we have is passive judgment that’s uninterested in the people our judgment is directed at, then it isn’t worth our time to say it or anyone else’s time to hear it. We are going to need something more. And am I not my brother’s keeper?
To finish: I keep thinking about John C. Reilly’s monologue from the end of “Magnolia,” which happens to be my favorite film of all time. Reilly plays a cop. He says:
“Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail. And that is a very tricky thing on my part, making that call. I mean, the law is the law and heck if I’m gonna break it. But you can forgive someone…well, that’s the tough part. What can we forgive?”
Seeing looters, especially in my own city of Santa Monica, makes me angry. And sad. And even scared. But that's not the person I want to be. I want to be a man who tries to understand others, even when it's hard. A man who sits with others in their pain, and mourns with them. A man who is gracious and forgiving toward others. God knows I've needed people to be that toward me.