In an effort to practice what I preach I counted down from ten to my initial reaction to this video from the Arizona Mosque Protest. I then re-constructed my reaction into this:
I’m glad we give freedom of speech to all. I’m sad they chose to use it the way they have. Im glad people showed up to use their free speech to show their love for their fellow citizens in the face of hate. I’m glad we have good Police like those to allow both sides to express themselves without escalation. I’m glad people did not resort to assuming everyone there is a thug. I don’t believe these people represent all whites or that whites need to explain themselves because of these people. I will try to be consistent in these views no matter the situation. I understand these protesters are scared and have had no help to cope with their fear as a community. That fear/ignorance is all of our faults and we should reach out to them to close the gap between their fears and their fellow humans.
A news story is just that,. It is not the entire picture of an event – it never is and probably never will be. The world creates too much information to pack into an hour or less of stories.
Responsibly balance what you interpret
This is where your brain and heart come in. It is up to you to always remember that with each story there are two sides and perspectives on every matter. It is important to remember:
That groups of people aren’t all bad
Power is a delicate asset (and privilege) to have over someone
There is still racial (and religious and economic …) tension in the U.S., if not the world. If you ignore it then, like an infection, it will only get worse.
The words we choose are powerful in fueling or dousing the issues above. Negatively classifying a group may be easier for you, but can unnecessarily create a bigger divide per #3 .
For every story you show me of a “black” person shooting a “white” person, I could Google the opposite. Show me A Muslim shot in America, I can Google a tragedy of another group’s loss. We see it every day on social media. The untold stories of a group desperately trying to prove that their group is not the problem. Sadly, I’m doing so, they often try to prove how another group is the problem. They do so directly or indirectly, on purpose or sometimes on accident. Both sides rarely get covered in the same breath. Rarely is there any attempt to see how both sides have pain, loss or tragedy. Why? What would be lost?
Wrong is not exclusive
Can we start by agreeing that these are all wrong? If a police officer dies or an unarmed civilian dies they are both wrong, right? Is it wrong when a police officer frames a civilian? Of course it is. Since they are an authority with power news of it will cause a shock wave of fear in citizens minds that hear it. More so than a story of a civilian framing another civilian. It goes for all types of power: A teacher taking advantage of a student; a political official taking advantage of their constituency; a boss taking advantage of their employee; a wealthy person kicking a homeless person on the street. People fear the powerful preying on the less powerful and praise a David that takes down a Goliath. Not all people of power are corrupt, but when corruption infiltrates the powerful the consequences can be widely devastating to a society.
The dynamic of these fears toward the powerful are likely learned from our history: Once those of power gain absolute power, freedom is lost. – But I digress. What I am really driving at here is: it is all wrong. Why not nurture a society that openly confronts each wrong individually and makes an effort to put an end to them all?
The Importance of Being Heard
When people aren’t feeling heard they get angry. Think of how mad you get when Comcast (or another cable monopoly) takes your money and gives you no options to resolve the problem on the phone. Being rendered powerless sucks. Of course, you *have* the power to sue or visit their office, but, for the most part, there isn’t much you can do without exerting far more effort than should be required.
Now imagine all your neighbors have no money, and Comcast does it to your entire neighborhood – at the same time or in the same building. More directly, imagine a group of any [race|religion|etc] in a town of low income or out of work people (more importantly, imagine a group “just like you” with less) that simultaneously see multiple shootings of “their own” killed on TV by an alternate group. Imagine hearing the victim was unarmed or under age. What if they felt they didn’t have a voice or options? Would they riot? Probably. Would they be wrong to do so? Yes. Is the other group wrong for killing their unarmed, less fortunate, less empowered person? Yes. It is all yes!
You don’t have to choose a side. You don’t have to say “no” to one thing just so you may agree to another. Believe it or not, you can agree it is all wrong at the same time! No one gets hurt when you support people that have been wronged. Your group will not suffer as a result. (Those that do are probably the outliers that have gotten us in this tense situation in the first place. Help educate them too.) Believe it or not you can openly understand why a person has been wronged and is angry. You can also openly not agree with how they reacted too.
The wrong & right seesaw
We often try to highlight one wrong doing to that best represent how we feel, and, inadvertently, we can end up belittle the other wrongs that occurred in the situation. As a result, more people feel unheard and more problems pop up. What would happen if people understood the other side and let them have the voice they are dying to have. “Hey [person relating to a tragic event], we are all sincerely sorry for your loss. It shouldn’t happen and we will sincerely going to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” We don’t use slurs or classifications to supplement our condolences, and, then, we follow up with action. What if we just said – yeah – about what happened – that’s not right. It shouldn’t happen again. What if those with more power or money or influence said, “Yes, I can see how we can make others feel powerless. Can I use my position more responsibly in some way? Can I use my position to squelch these issues instead of just fearing I will lose the position I have?”
Practical answers to wrongdoing
Is it wrong when a Muslim is easily labeled a “terrorist” but a non-Muslim of the same offense is just a “shooter”? Yes, of course it is. Is it wrong when an unarmed child is killed? Yes. Terribly so. Is it wrong when an officer is shot in the line of duty? Of course! It is tragic. Is it wrong that anyone is racially singled out, verbally or more tangibly so? Why do you need a rebuttal to that question? Of course it is wrong. Does it happen all the time? Yes. Far too frequently. Can we stop it all? Probably not. Can we try? Yes. Are there income gaps? Yes. Are they all for unjust reasons? Probably not. Are there many that are? Definitely. Is income inequality in those cases wrong? Without a doubt. Do we lose anything by admitting it? No.
We can always try to put an end to any of those wrongs. It is each of our individual responsibility to do so because when we don’t EVERYONE suffers eventually – in some pent up, anger filled, mob assembled way. Call it societal debt: You may want it easy now and ignore how others feel, but eventually it bubbles up – with compounded interest.
It seems like the world has so many “but”s, and “only if”s and “what about mine”s to divvy out. Sure, have those words – it’s natural. What I am asking is that you try and supplement a story with, “I see”, “I understand”, “Yes that is wrong”, “How can we make it better” or “I agree with one part, but it doesn’t help anyone that they said the other.”
How does it work in practice in my mind? Well if you read this far maybe you’d like to know 😉 If a group I don’t agree with says something that makes sense I try and say “okay that is a good point. I agree with that single point.” And follow up with , “However I don’t think it is right to also say X. Can you dig into that more?” or “can you explain what you mean by Y?” Do I fear I will lose my overall position if I concede one iota of ground? Absolutely. But that fear is one to battle within yourself, not support. It is really hard to do, but when it is all said and done I feel like often both sides walk away feeling more bonded, fulfilled and with much to think about.
I have found, as I take this approach of openly agreeing to points that make sense to me (even if the larger argument does not) and being specific with what I don’t agree with, the other side follows suit. As a whole the debate becomes a conversation. I have found that you may get flack for saying “I agree with what you said, but you probably shouldn’t use this word”, or asking “why did you use that word?” may get an initial negative reaction, but it often ends well.
I am also trying to be more balanced on my social media. If a story has a fair point (no matter what side) I try to “like” it. If people gang up on a figure or group, but the point the group is making seem reasonable – I try to ask them to dig in more. Even at the risk of being deemed “wrong” or some sort of traitor by my friends for asking.
If the story has terms that divide unnecessarily like “thug”, “terrorist”, or uses grouping terms like “cops”, “blacks”, “muslims” I try to dig a bit deeper into their reasoning. Why? As Ghandi said, be the change you wish to see. It is just as much an exercise in self improvement than it has to do with changing minds. It is hard as $h!t to do those things – and deep down I know it is the overall right thing to do. Usually working on things with that combination are pretty valuable in life.
I may get flack for this post, but in the spirit of it – feel free to let me know where you disagree and I will try to see your side while offering mine 🙂