Breaking the Cycle

This is not an article about us as lawyers, about the legal system or how and what we can do to help clients to navigate the justice system. For this issue, I intended to write an article about the need for Portland lawyers to support the court system and the need for us to lobby for additional funding so that the courts can function to serve all Oregonians, which we should - but recent news has derailed my efforts. Instead, this article is my attempt to reflect upon and try to understand the world we live in.              

By the time this article is published the news cycle will have moved on, and the latest tragedy will be old news, but as I write I am feeling helpless as I read and listen to the stories coming out of New Zealand.  Fifty dead and many injured at two mosques. I wonder what it would feel to lose my son like some mothers did yesterday. What it would be like to be the target of so much hatred, just because of how I worship, and for my life to be meaningless to some. What makes all of this worse is there is an upward trend in this racist, bigoted, white supremacist violence. This is not the first morning I am crying over senseless mass death. The Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, the Charleston church shooting, the  Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, just a few of the recent places of worship killings, not to mention the school shootings that are too overwhelming even to count; the Orlando club shooting and the killings that occur daily of black, LBGTQ+ and other non-dominant culture human beings. It is not acceptable for us to treat this as a new normal.        
A question that keeps coming to mind - what makes someone hate so much? What makes someone believe that they are so much better than another human that someone else has to die? This is “othering” taken to its extreme. Simply because someone is different from us, dresses differently, looks differently, worships differently, speaks differently, therefore they are an inferior human (if they are a human at all) and do not deserve the most basic right there is - to draw their next breath.
I don’t know the answer to the question above. I have never known the answer and I am sure there are many different explanations from smarter 

people than me. I do know that no one is born with the belief that someone who is different from them must be killed. I also know that othering does not happen overnight. It arises from a continuous, systematic attack on the group that it alienates. It can start small - comments here and there - facial expressions when meeting someone different. It is incubated when such behaviors are condoned, when no one speaks up against these behaviors.

As I write, I remember all the times I stood up to othering behavior, but most importantly all the many times I did not. I question and self-reflect on why I did not. Was it too uncomfortable? Would I endanger myself? Did it affect my economic interest? Did it feel too awkward? Would I have been considered too difficult or awkward? In the face of such pain families and communities experience from this othering, none of these reasons are compelling enough to justify not speaking out.

We are all, as lawyers, in a position of trust. The spirit of the MBA Professionalism Statement and our ORPCs require us to actively discourage hateful language and behavior. Many of us live in the “Portland bubble” where we like to believe hatred, bigotry and white supremacy is minimal in our town. The MAX stabbing reminds us of this fallacy. Many in Christchurch thought they lived in a place where “this could not happen.” It happened there and it has happened here. These horrific events are the reason we still need to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. These horrific events are why, for the most part, during my MBA presidency, the masthead articles have been about the underrepresented voices in our community.

I, for one, pledge to do better - to stand up against othering behavior more and to embrace my community that is being othered more. This pledge is for situations in my personal life and for professional situations I encounter. I hope you join me.

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