The violence in Charlottesville weighs heavily on my heart. I’ve been watching and reading how people are responding to events there, and I feel that I have something to add to the conversation. So here are my thoughts, and I hope you’ll approach them with the intention with which they are offered. I am not an expert on race or psychology. I may get some things wrong. I may not express my thoughts clearly or eloquently. You may disagree with parts or all of my perspective, and yet…
We must stay in conversation.
This is the single most important thing we must do if we want less violence in the world. There are no conversations that we can afford to walk away from or shut down.
We need to talk about race
The suffering of African Americans continues to be dismissed, ignored, and/or justified- maybe not by you, but as a whole. Often when conversations begin about the role of slavery and racial violence in building this country, and how they continue to shape our present, they are immediately shut down with sentences like, “it’s not my fault. I didn’t have anything to do with that,” or “that was a long time ago,” or “look, no one gave me anything either,” or maybe “I don’t hate anyone.” Regardless of how true those things may be, they are irrelevant to the conversation we need to have about race in America.
Brene Brown writes that there is power in owning our story, because when we own our story, we can write the ending. But we haven’t yet owned the complicated and often ugly history of race in this country. And because we haven’t, the wounds have never healed. This story is still owning us. It’s still writing us. It’s still hurting us.
We start writing the ending by talking about it.
The best way out is through. The racial injustice and strife we are experiencing today is a result of the unaddressed legacy of racial injustice in our past. It’s likely we’ve avoided these conversations, because they are uncomfortable, scary, and messy. They trigger feelings of shame and guilt (legitimate or not), and we’ll do just about anything to avoid feeling ashamed or guilty. But it only takes one look around to realize that the pain and problems that we continue to experience are way worse than having these conversations will ever be.
I don’t know what those conversations will look like. I don’t have any answers about what we should do. But I am willing. I am willing to listen, ask questions, and have difficult conversations. I am willing to validate other people’s experiences, to be corrected when my history or beliefs need updating, and engage in finding common ground. I am willing to look at the reality of our history, the problems of our present, and collaborate on solutions for creating a future where anyone can reach their full potential regardless of where they were born or the color of their skin.
I am willing to do that, because I am brave and strong. And so are you. Which is great news, because the world needs your strength and courage now more than ever.
We need to talk to those who hate
The reality of the technology that is available at our fingertips means that in this day and age, any single person can be a weapon of mass destruction, so there is no person whose anger, pain, or loneliness can not directly impact me. So, while I might feel justified, while it would be easier, while it might make me feel righteous to dismiss people with hateful views, there are no disposable people. There are no people we can write off or ignore.
I’ll grant you that some people are sociopaths. There are some people who are broken. But by and large, people are people. And that means that we all have the same basic human needs. We are all capable of fulfilling those basic human needs through positive means or through negative means.
Significance: Every single person finds a way to feel important. I will confess here that I derive a large portion of my significance from the fact (opinion?) that I’m smart. I also feel important because I run a non-profit, I’ve written a book, etc. If a person has nothing else in their life they can feel important about, then they can feel important because they were born white. There is nothing logical or healthy about this position, and it doesn’t matter. They choose this vehicle for feeling important, because it is the vehicle that is available to them.
Community: Every single person needs to belong somewhere. A community can be found in friends, family, church, sports, or civic groups, and hopefully we are born into, find, or choose loving communities that encourage us to be authentic, happy, kind, and successful. But those values are not required. The need is to belong to a group of people, and if the group of people who welcomes the isolated, disconnected, lonely, confused young man is a hate group, then that is the family he will adopt and the values he will espouse.
Since the events in Charlottesville I’ve listened to or read the accounts of some former skinheads, and I’ve heard the same thing in all of them: It was unearned, unexpected compassion that caused them to give up their hate-filled lives. In absolutely no form or fashion do we accept or condone their actions. And yet, we must talk to those who hate. They must know that there is another way to feel important, and they must know there are other communities to belong to.
These tough conversations begin with a conversation we have with ourselves by asking 2 critical questions:
1. What do I really want (for myself, for others, for our relationship, for my community, for our country, for our world)?
2. How would I behave if I really wanted that?
These are two questions we can all spend some time with. When we act in a way that is consistent with what we really want, all our hard conversations will get easier and more productive.