There is a vigil in my village tonight for the those murdered in the mosque attacks in Christchurch. I live in Paekakariki, New Zealand. Members of our small community will gather to remember the victims of this horrific slaughter. Other communities in New Zealand are holding vigils, as are other groups around the world. We come together to mourn, to connect and to be in solidarity.
As New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said in her first comment after the attack:
“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”
The world needs a bigger sense of “us”, not a smaller one. We at Cultivating Leadership, a global firm that began in Paekakariki, state our purpose as being, “to cultivate ideas, practices, and communities that release the world from simplistic thinking and enable progress on our most complex challenges.” Implicit in this is a bigger sense of humanity and connection, a way that we realise that we are in this together on planet earth and all of our most pressing challenges require collaboration across different creeds and identities. As we know in our leadership work, such collaboration is not easy. It requires us to be confident of ourselves and also able to be open and vulnerable with others. Fears shut us down.
The word vigil comes from the Latin to be awake. But there are many forms of being woke, it seems, and different words derive from this root.
There is a wave of rejection in many countries of this need to be inter-connected and to celebrate both our diversity and our common humanity in constructive and creative ways. There is a drumbeat of national or ethnic or religious purities. This includes a rise in the expressions of white nationalism. At its extreme, manufactured fears of “the other,” fanned in the intense feedback loops of social and other media creates meaning and belonging driven by hate and, ultimately, groups and individuals functioning as armed vigilantes. The hero stories of these vigilantes are often that they are not “haters” but instead “protectors.” Their stories are that they are protecting their nearest and dearest from invasions of foreigners or attacks on their values. They are protecting against the “others.”
We need vigilance on many fronts. Mostly we need to be awake to the stories that we spin about our rightness and our superiority and our fear of others. We need to watch for the ways these stories can have such a deep hold on us. In New Zealand one of our stories has been that we lived a long distance away from many of the world’s threats. In a way we did, and now we do not. And yet, even in the faces of these malignant forces, there are things we can offer. We are a small and open and tolerant society. We have tried, however imperfectly, to begin righting the wrongs of our colonial “superiorities” and our dispossession of Maori. We need to be vigilant to enable us to continue to be open and tolerant and secure. Our vigils of deep grief and solidarity can also be ways to begin to make our worlds whole again and to stand for a bigger sense of us. And we need to be awake to the layers of pain involved here.
As one of the halfbacks for the national rugby team, the All Blacks, T.J. Perenara, wrote yesterday: “While as cities and a nation we are all devastated by what happened yesterday, let’s not lose sight of the fact that yesterday’s terrorist attacks were targeted at the Muslim community. While it may have felt like it, we were not all at risk. We were not all unsafe. But we are all responsible for joining the wider conversation about racism, about white supremacy, about who we are as a country, and what’s actually going on.
“To our Muslim brothers and sisters – kei te heke ngā roimata, kei te ngākau pōuri au, ka aroha ki a koutou. I am so sorry this happened to you here. You should have been safe here, you should be safe everywhere. My heart is so heavy.”