Hope and the Spiral of Resentment and Violence

So we continue in the spiral of resentment and violence. It’s shocking to wake up to five dead police officers and, instead of an anonymous street scene from Some City, it’s an intersection I know well. ¬†Then, a week later, three more dead, not so far away.

And with so many horrors crowding around, it’s tempting to wonder which one I should light upon; whom I should blame; whose injuries I should be incensed about and whose I should brush aside.

There can be no excuse for gunning down people from a rooftop.

Just as there can be no excuse for gunning down people who are sitting in their cars in a routine traffic stop or playing with a toy gun in a park or walking home from a convenience store after buying some Skittles.

We are so tempted to imagine that we must carefully portion out our compassion – to make sure we don’t waste it on someone who may be, what? … undeserving? We seem to imagine that we have only a precious little bit of caring, and if we’re profligate with it, we’ll run dry. And then where would we be if we really needed it? Better to conserve it, we think. Better to shrink back; get smaller.

I’m white. Many dear people in my family are black. My sister-in-law used to be a cop. None of those characteristics¬†give any of us a special claim on goodness or badness. Hell, probably even the cops who shot those innocent black boys and men – most of them probably weren’t consciously racist. But they were likely so scared by black skin that they reacted out of terror when no threat was present.

And Micah Johnson was probably a pretty good guy once. But after the incomprehensible insults against him and people like him piled up to the sky; after they combined with a vengeful ideology that at least acknowledged the atrocities for what they are … atrocity must have begun to seem reasonable, I suppose.

If you’re white and you’ve got black friends, I hope you’re talking to them about all of this. If you don’t have black friends, I hope you’re asking yourself why that is. If you’re black, I hope you can find the generosity to help your white friends think clearly – even when their obliviousness is utterly galling. We can easily segregate ourselves into groups of people who are just like us – our little echo-chamber cocoons of imagined safety. We’re all seeing just how safe that’s making our world.

Please, please: Just as Lin Manuel-Miranda said that “Love is love is love is love is love…” so pain is pain is pain is pain. If we cannot understand someone else’s suffering – that is not the fault of the one we don’t understand. It is our problem.

And it is our job to become experts in sensing and empathizing with everyone else’s pain – most especially those who frighten or anger us. If we don’t, we are lost. If we develop that expertise, there is hope.