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I was a 19-year-old junior at UCLA when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. I will never forget the crying young man who ran from classroom to classroom to announce the horrifying news and how all of us – students and professors of all races – poured out of lecture halls and gathered outside in community to mourn. I remember standing in the bright sunlight, struggling with despair, and wondering, “WHY?”
Today, it is hard not to feel powerless in the waves of fear, grief, suffering, outrage, and violence devastating so much of the US – and the world. Feeling helpless can lead to feeling hopeless, which can cause us to freeze or lash out, or collapse into depression. Instead of getting overwhelmed, we can choose to look at what we CAN do.
We can start by taking the brave step of trying to walk in each other’s shoes. Instead of just talking with or getting news from people who agree with us, we can listen to each other’s different points of view, learn from each other, and keep the whole picture in mind. When we understand each other, we can speak and act from a place of compassion rather than demonizing anyone. We don’t have to agree with each other to care about each other. We can also care about each other while still setting boundaries when necessary.
Understanding can be uncomfortable because it requires facing some difficult truths. As hard as this pandemic is for most of us, we can keep in mind the harsh realities for black, native, and all communities of color and of low income who face far greater risks – of getting sick and dying, of losing their jobs, of losing their homes, of working in unsafe conditions, and of fear for their families. For generations, people of color are and have been far more likely to be harassed, assaulted, and killed by law enforcement officials. We can understand that, when people feel desperate, they might do desperate things.
AND, we can appreciate the countless public safety officers who are doing their best to help their communities – often being the first responders to emergencies of all kinds and sometimes heroically facing violence to protect these vulnerable people. We can remember that law enforcement people are sometimes killed in the line of duty – and targeted for violence because of their uniform. This reality often creates fear. According to Cross Cultural Trainer Lillian Roybal Rose, “No matter who you are and who ‘they’ are, looking at people through a lens of fear alters perceptions in ways that make dangerous reactions more likely.”AND, we can also appreciate the courage of the tens of thousands of protesters who are peacefully exercising their right to speak up and to gather. These upset angry people who are demanding that their voices be heard do not deserve to be treated as criminals or labeled as “terrorists.” Each day brings many stories of protesters who choose to act in ways that protect others from harm even if they end up at more risk of harm themselves and who have gone out of their way to help clean up vandalized businesses.
AND, we can be inspired by the power of George Floyd’s brother Terrence’s plea for peace on the streets as he knelt on the spot where his brother had died, saying destruction is “not going to bring my brother back at all.”
If we stay silent about destructive problems in our society like racism, classism, and all forms of prejudice and violence, we are allowing those problems to fester and grow. If we demonize people we disagree with, we will never learn how to work together. These problems are complex. It’s OK to disagree about some things – as long as we do it with respect and at least a willingness to listen.
Each of us can listen, learn, find ways to reach out to help those in need, support others who are doing work we believe in, vote, and speak up about injustices that happen to other groups as well as our own groups. And all people of good will, no matter what our differences are, can keep communicating until we find enough common ground from which we can work together for lasting change.
Published: June 2, 2020 | Last Updated: June 2, 2020