This is perhaps the hardest post I have ever written. By hardest, I refer to the amount of time I have spent thinking about how to formulate my words in such a way that honor the feelings I have, while also calling my readers to contemplate and react.
In the weeks since the Grand Jury decision in the Michael Brown case, followed all-too-closely with the lack of prosecution in the death of Eric Garner, and now the tragic killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, I have been been so confused and upset about how we, as a collective society, have handled our thoughts. Even in saying “our collective society” is borderline inappropriate, because I believe that PART of the issue is the spectrum on which reactions have existed.
My argument today, (which I will attempt to explain, defend, and credit) is that while there are many very real factors and problems at play (which will be discussed), the greatest and most applicable of these is a lack of true compassion amongst the general public in our country.
Now before I explain my “True Compassion is Missing” assertion, I will mention a few points:
Firstly, I completely honor each and everyone’s personal feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, victimization, racial profiling, (insert any other feeling that you may have). I wasn’t there when Michael Brown lost his life. I don’t know if Ferguson Police acted appropriately or not. Moreover, I choose to not judge what is right and wrong in a situation that I had no business in. However, those who feel as though the incident was racially charged are just as “right,” in my opinion, as those who feel like Officer Darren Wilson was acting in self-defense and was justified. Herein lies the problem: no matter what belief you hold or whatever group you identify with, you are suffering. Inherently, when a divisive issue comes to light, there is suffering on each side. The problem arises when violence and news coverage and rumors and overall misinformation try to minimize or reject the validity of the other group’s opinion. This is what I see as so very sad.
Secondly, I want it to be said that I don’t believe reactionary violence solves any problems, and rather only perpetuates them. While I don’t condemn those who have become violent, I do pray that they are able to contemplate and process their feelings in a way that healthily expresses the troubles they are facing.
True compassion lies in the ability to see that when one is suffering, we are all unable to be fully whole. As a fellow human being, if you are not able to participate in this life in a content, free nature, then by association, neither am I. Is the way you experience your suffering different than mine? Of course! However, this does not illegitimate the point. This quote is what helped me formulate my feelings around this entire issue, as well as this post: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
While it originally refers to the idea of false charity and aid workers coming in to third world countries employing a “reach down and help people up” method rather than affirming each person’s inherent human dignity, I believe that it applies today. I hold the belief that those in the black community who are crying out to be heard and whose injustices are running rampant have important points to make! Does this mean, that as a white person, I am racist? Or does it mean that I believe most white people are? No. However, I do stand in unity to say that due to the suffering of many, I am in part suffering with them. The liberation of those who feel persecuted is “bound up” with my own, and therefore regardless of my personal experience in the matter, I have a personal connection to the end result: liberation for all. This is why we MUST work together.
Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J., author of one of my most favorite books, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” chronicles his involvement and immersion into the gang-infested communities of Los Angeles and all that he has learned through his relationships with members of his community. He says, “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” The important thing that Boyle does in this quote, besides convict readers to contemplate their own “lurking suspicions” is to consider that this lack of compassion is a FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE. This means that it is something that lies at the basis of all other challenges. So if this suspicion that some lives matter less than others is our base-line thought, then it should be utterly un-surprising (note that I do not say excusable) that societal misunderstandings and injustice plague our communities: in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and beyond.
Perhaps it’s also important to mention that in this time of unrest and dispute, there is real grief that is being faced. True compassion calls us to recognize this. Fr. Boyle again sums it up beautifully (sub out “poor” for “your fellow human”): “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
Recognize that in his story, he is discussing those who are living in extreme poverty and so that is his context. But it should apply to all of us: We should aim to have compassion coursing through us so strongly in a way that compels us to stand in awe at all that someone has to face, rather than in judgement of how they choose to face it. This is a lofty but beautiful goal.
In these times of grief, sadness, anger, dispute, and injustices, I hope that we can ALL take a step back. Try to look at our society from a birds eye view. All over, we are suffering. Though our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all different, collectively, we are suffering. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t be seeing online posts that claim extreme and “radical” opinions, or protests taking over city highways and small-towns from coast to coast. Until we as a society can recognize that healing has to happen for each person, then there is no way that we will overcome. Until we acknowledge and work toward compassion for ALL, then we will continue to be stuck in this web of hurt.
My prayer is that we, as a country of talented, beautiful, diverse, passionate, incredible people, can soon come to a place where we realize that our liberation is bound up in each other’s; and that to reach that fulfillment, we must drop our guards, gain some courage, and walk together toward this common goal.