I know that many of us are feeling devastated by the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille this week and now today the painful murders of the Dallas police officers gunned down at a peaceful protest. We had only begun to recover from the grief of those lost in Orlando weeks before or manage the anguish we feel as we see the death tolls reported on evening news every night in many of our cities.
What is the solution to all this violence and undervaluing of life that fuels these tragedies? Many amazing folks are on the streets, in our government and progressive organizations working to change this reality. It will take a long-term investment and the intention to confront the systems in our society that perpetuate these unacceptable conditions, but today I want to suggest something in the short term that each of us can do to break down our own systems of apathy, paralysis, fear and anger that we bring to these tragic situations.
This is something you can do immediately. I want you to talk! Talk Boldly!
Too often we are going about our lives in the midst of tragedy without talking about it in the places we spend the most time. We are afraid to talk about issues of race because we feel nothing good can come of it. But I believe nothing good can come without it. Our silence keeps us distant; sure of our world views and assumptions, and separate. Separate, we are free to see each other only as different. We are free to make up stories about groups (including the police), separate from real and authentic interactions with individuals from these groups that might challenge our presumptions.
So today, I want you to talk. Don’t hide your grief. Don’t smile and pretend. Our workplaces especially have become so antiseptic and impervious to this kind of discussion, or the impact of what happens outside its doors. Somehow, we seem to think that if it happens outside, it doesn’t affect us inside. It does; it affects our mood, our sense of hope and purpose, our productivity, and our ability to thrive as teams of diverse individuals.
So I am issuing a call to action. Let’s talk boldly TODAY. And I don’t mean talk only to your social media feed. I mean talk to people in front of you: at your office, at the Starbucks, the laundry mat, on the bus and the subway. Talking to friends and family is fine, but also look to talk to someone who is not like you but who you might see every day. Don’t get crazy. You don’t have to talk to people who have already made clear to you that they are haters. There are some folks who don’t mean well, but there are many others who you have rendered invisible or too different to consider.
Why would you open yourself up to strangers and those who are different at such a time when you feel most vulnerable? Because our hearts are open today; we are humble today as we are able to see so clearly that something is very wrong in our society. We don’t know what to do but our feelings are palpable and we are searching again for answers. We are unsettled and maybe this moment will provide an opening for understanding, for finding empathy and for seeing our common humanity.
Isolation, just like violence, will never create a solution to right the wrongs. If we wait until tomorrow to speak we might soldier up and the opening will close. So talk boldy today- even if you only speak to one person who might be different from you in some way. And here are some guidelines that might help –
1. Share your feelings, your story, your experience but not your blame
2. Be curious about the perspectives of others and be willing to believe their experiences
3. Be willing to be wrong
4. Listen as much or maybe more than you talk (mostly for talkers like me)
5. Don’t try to perfect – or pretend you know things that you don’t
6. Seek to understand as much as you want to be understood
7. Don’t try to convince, try to communicate
8. Cut folks some slack- if only for today; if they say the wrong thing; be gentle and give them room to grow
I know these conversations work because of the amazing ways that I have seen Baltimoreans draw closer together across their differences as part of the Circles of Voices work, founded by JC Faulk of http://www.anendtoignorance.com. We invite people to talk to each other who begin the circle as strangers and end the night with an experience of connection that changes how they see themselves and “the other” outside that circle. So it works, but it takes some courage and some boldness and some love.
And if it just so happens that you have an extra bit of love on board, share it with as many as you can today- a smile, a compliment, a listening ear, paying attention, giving a hug, saying a prayer or showing grace will go a long way to affirming our shared humanity. Without an ability to love and connect across our differences we will never be able to defeat the fear that is the unpinning of all this violence and painful injustice.