I am angry. Really angry. As such, I am going to “unload” here and many things I say are going to rub some people raw. In fact, some of what I am going to say here will not sit well with all who read this. I do not care. I do not care because this cannot continue.
So many today are angry. It is evident on our TV screens. In some places, it is evident outside our front doors and in our homes, places of work, houses of worship.
All of us are taking positions and many of the positions we take are colored by the lenses of our experience, our education, and our hearts. And I am going to say to you the same thing I have recently said to myself… if you believe you are right, think again.
I recently had a conversation with a couple of friends. And before I delve in, I want to preface this that I couldn’t care in the least about someone’s heritage, melanin levels in their skin, where their daddy and mother came from.
In our conversation, we talked about the differences in perspectives between white and black Americans. A lot of it centered on “walking in each other’s shoes.” And the conversation solidified something I have been wrestling with for years.
Before diving into the particulars, I believe something I heard years ago online from a marriage counselor can apply to what we see happening. The marriage counselor was stating that this man had a wife that had been doing many things “wrong” and had been cheating on him. They were now in therapy, as she had realized what she had done, had stopped the affair, and was seeking reconciliation with her husband. In therapy, the husband kept bringing up “…but you cheated.” After several of these exchanges, the marriage counselor stopped the husband and asked: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?”
Far too many of us, on ALL sides of the issues facing us, would rather be “right” than to have relationship with our fellow citizens. We block each other online, we hide out in our little groups who think like us, and we hammer the opposition with the truth, as we know it. I am as guilty as everyone else.
In order for us to remain “married” in this country, though, we are going to have to decide if we want to remain in this marriage, or we just want to be right. Because if we do not decide on understanding and reconciliation, then this country is going to split apart at the seams. I fear that it already is and it may be too late.
In the conversation we had, Vince talked about what it was like to be a black man walking the streets. To have that feeling, many times, that you are being watched. To constantly be looking over your shoulder, wondering if you might be suspected or harassed. We talked about how I might feel if I, or maybe even my daughter, walked through a predominantly black neighborhood at night and how she might feel.
You see, I can be right about many things… but do I want to be right, or do I want to understand? By putting myself in someone else’s shoes, to see how it would be uncomfortable for my daughter in that situation, I get just a glimpse of what it is like for Vincent and his family. The next day after our conversation, Vincent wrote the stark truth in this Facebook post:
“Good morning FB family and friends: I have been TRYING hard for the last few days to understand WHY! Why is that I can’t feel safe jogging, driving, walking or just being out in public. It makes no sense to me that I have to check on my brothers out here and make sure they are ok, but I do it! What have we done to be treated this way in a society that says we all have the same equal rights, but don’t exercise it. I see different colors of people everyday of my life but they all bleed the same as me. So how in the hell are we just that different? I worry more about police brutality than I do the out right racists that walk the streets. You know why? I can see the racist coming but the other hides behind a shield of silence and bigotry.
By NO means are all law enforcement a part of this problem! Let’s be clear about that, and I have family and friends who are and they are great at their job and take it responsibly. But, when you see the systematic way they are killing us it becomes hard to trust anyone in a uniform.
Anyone out there who reads this, you don’t have to share it, post it or whatever else. I don’t care about any of that. What I care about is my kids losing their Dad to violence. Too my friends that are white, Asian, Hispanic, middle eastern, or whatever know that I care for you as a child of GOD and that’s how I see you. If you see me as just a black man then honestly we don’t need to be around each other anymore. But, I hope and pray that is not the case. Please, be safe out here people 1 & All. Much Love/Peace Vince.”
Do you see it?
Can you hear it?
Do you understand why you cannot feel it?
Scott, my pastor, and Josh, my assistant pastor, talked openly this past Sunday about empathy. Admittedly, a trait I often am short of. And their discussion got me thinking. You see, a part of my Army career, I served as an inspector general. And one of the concepts they taught us at the IG school was “perception is reality.” It doesn’t matter how many statistics you want to throw at someone… showing how “right” you are. At the end of the day a person’s perception is what is reality. Do you want to change their reality? You must change their perception.
How is that done? How are the perceptions of white Americans going to be changed in this? How will the perceptions of black Americans be changed?
I fear that far too many want to be right and do not care to have their perceptions changed. They do not care to listen in order to understand. All they care is to listen in order to fire back and make themselves right. In a marriage, I have learned that even in an argument, my wife has to win. Sure, I might be “right.” But if I trounce my “rightness” on her over and over, do you know what I get? I don’t get a wife who says “you know, you’re right.” Instead, you get a wife who is hostile and eventually disengages.
Which leads me to this. Where does being “right” get you? Sure, you feel great about being right at the time. But that marriage, that relationship you have with the other person, it strains and eventually breaks. And then you are upset, you are mad, you are crying because now the relationship is broken and, in some cases, engaged in full out “warfare.” Is that what you intended? Is that what you really wanted?
My fellow Americans (and I mean ALL of you… black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc.), you need to wake up. You need to first of all, get on your knees and ask God for forgiveness. And then you need to get up and listen to understand. Yes, what the other person is saying may be technically inaccurate. But if you want the relationship, if you do not want to be in open warfare, then you need to listen to understand.
That does not mean you have to agree. If someone is telling you 2+2=5, you don’t have to agree with that and you can discuss how that conclusion is not correct. What I am talking about is trying to understand HOW this person concluded that the answer to that equation is five. Rather than jam down their throats the truth that it is four, how about asking questions of the person? Maybe you could find out what led them to that conclusion. And once you understand, THEN you… in love… help them understand what the answer to the equation is.
Folks, I am not talking to just white Americans. Many of my friends who are black, have admitted to me that they have done the same thing white America has. They have admitted that they have not listened to understand, but have instead acted out of their own perceptions, their own reality. They have admitted that a lot of the problems in the black community have nothing to do with white Americans, but instead are failures within their own communities. They have admitted that many of those problems are so painful, that even if everyone leaned in to change them, they are likely to take generations to turn around and are not easily fixed. So instead of facing those facts, and doing the hard things, they cop out and just blame white America, blame the system. They also have realized they have not listened to understand why white Americans believe the things they do about these situations, that they have not tried to understand why white America have the perceptions they have and that maybe it is not racism that is the actual issue here.
White Americans, this is also where you cop out. Where I used to cop out. We read and see the statistics on the problems in the black community, on the desperation in many cases. And what do we do? We back away, taking our “rightness” with us. We say “do you see? They are causing most of their own problems, not me. They need to fix themselves.” And then we go back to our lives, ignoring their reality. We go back to our lives UNTIL their pain reaches such a level that “warfare” is all that is left. And now the marriage is in crisis. And white America sits back and says “Why are they so angry?” If we had been engaged all along, and had been listening to understand, we would KNOW why they are angry. And even if we believe we are right about their situation, we would then step into their world and LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND, and try to find out WHY they have come to the conclusions they have. We would try to understand, to have EMPATHY, for the perceptions they have.
Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss talks a lot about how in a negotiation, if you want a long-term relationship, then your “opponent” in that negotiation must win also. If not, then eventually, that person will no longer engage with you. Ladies and gentlemen, we are getting to that point. We are getting to the point where we will no longer engage with each other, except on the battlefield.
For this American, who happens to be white, I must do better. We all must do better, to treat each other as children of God AND as fellow Americans. That doesn’t mean excusing rioting, looting, and hurting others. I believe we can all agree on that. But the actions over the last week should give all of us a wake up call to why we are where we are, and what is needed to turn things in the direction needed.
I agree wholeheartedly with what Vince wrote above. So, I will borrow from what he said and conclude by saying “Too my friends that are
white black, Asian, Hispanic, middle eastern, or whatever know that I care for you as a child of GOD and that’s how I see you. If you see me as just a black white man then honestly we don’t need to be around each other anymore. But, I hope and pray that is not the case. Please, be safe out here people 1 & All. Much Love/Peace Vince Jay.”