Things to say.
Not sure how they connect, or if they connect, but the providential nudge is as palpable as a wasp’s sting.
I want to say this: This is not easy.
All of it. The grief. Race relations. Gun laws. Crime. Hate. Policing. Faith. Media coverage. Economics.
We want it to be easy, because so much of life has gotten easier —communication, information, socialization.
“Just ban the guns.”
“We must stop racism.”
“Churches need more security.”
“Somebody should have seen the signs.”
We press buttons on our phone and airline reservations are made, bills are paid, dinner is ordered and student grades are revealed.
Somebody press a button and fix this!
But the buttons that fix these problems are as numerous as grains of sand in the desert. And they are connected at countless touch points.
Another thing to say, with trepidation: There is an unseemly thing going on in today’s world of breaking news — too often, it feels like a race for political and ideological validation.
“See, I told you, cops are (choose one) evil and racist/unappreciated heroes.”
Sometimes, I swear, I think I even detect a whiff of glee when some tragic event affirms the political/ideological view of a social media commenter — kind of like a greedy heir who wants to show appropriate grief, but is secretly giddy over a pending inheritance.
I wonder, having just written that, to what extent our current political discourse feeds into the issues we are experiencing.
Both sides of the political spectrum seem pretty angry to me. Even those who claim to preach a theology of love seem to be filled with so much anger and are far too willing to cast their own stones. Can we start engaging without raised voices, all caps writing and exclamation points?
So, Foster, these observations are nice, but what’s the solution? These tragedies are unbearable. If we can’t press buttons, what can we do?
First, we can press buttons. Different buttons.
It seems to me it starts with recognizing this is a problem of humanity. Legislative remedies are not the primary medicine for societal ills. (Note that I didn’t say there are no legislative remedies. But those are the easiest “buttons” to press and I worry the most about what’s easy when it comes to effectiveness.)
Where the real work can be done is within our own hearts, minds and souls.
Are we owning our own actions and interactions and thoughts? Do we see crime and racism as a shared problem?
Here are a few more prickly questions: Are non-racist whites still willing to own some responsibility for improving race relations in their communities? Are blacks willing to own that some racist attitudes originate in their own communities? Are blacks and whites willing to concede that they are simply more comfortable in their own company and that segregation is, in many cases, a choice that both races make?
One word I have tried to discourage at the Democrat is “they.” This is not in a racial context. But when referring to another department within our organization, or when referring to our friends in the corporate office, we tend to use “they.” It is dehumanizing. If someone is giving you trouble or has made a decision with which we disagree, let’s call them by their name and address the problems directly, respectfully and constructively.
But we live in a “they” world, don’t we? Blacks and whites too often paint each other with brushstrokes as wide as a freeway. So do conservatives and liberals. Believers and non-believers.
And so we end up with generalizations like: Racist cops. Pinko socialists. Radical right. Thugs. And worse.
A bunch of “theys.”
A Washington Post columnist wrote this: “Roof, who was born in 1994, violently shatters one particularly entrenched myth that society holds about racism — that today’s millennials are more tolerant than their parents.”
So one man just redefined an entire generation? The writer just “they’d” millennials.
And now comes the news that the perpetrator of this crime wanted to start a race war.
Simple, yet complex question: Are you making it harder or easier for him to achieve that goal?
Demonizing large groups — whites, blacks, gun owners, gun control advocates, liberals, conservatives, atheists, people of faith, gays, straights — these are the go-to buttons for all segments of society.
Instead, the buttons we must press to solve this are not within easy reach on life’s control panel. And they must be pressed in a number and sequence beyond our capacity.
But we can start by pressing the ones labeled “love” and “think” and “care” and “change.”
Also: “Engage.” “Listen.” “Involve.” “Invite.” “Pray.” And many more.
Some buttons have labels that are so long they require very small type, such as “don’t view everything through a political/ideological lens.”
Those buttons aren’t always easy to reach. But we know we can press them in any order and with any frequency and things will get better.
Finally, I am reminded of the biblical story of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation.
Think of the immense power he suppressed in the face of the kind of unspeakable suffering we have witnessed this week. He could have so easily reached out and pressed “revenge” or “selfishness.”
Instead, the buttons he chose were “love” and “compassion,” then his own “suffering” and “death.”
Our challenge is to suppress the anger, eschew political posturing, avoid returning hate for hate and, instead, look into our collective souls and find the type of humanity that truly changes people and communities.
No, this is not easy.
It is not easy at all.
Skip Foster is publisher of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat.