Last night was a brutal night on social media. Even more so, it was brutal on the streets of Ferguson , MO and major cities throughout the United States.
From the outset, let me make it clear that this post is NOT about my opinion of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. Not to say I don’t have an opinion, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
I had quite an extraordinary opportunity last night when I witnessed the interaction on my posts regarding the breaking news between several people that I know, none of whom know each other.
As I watched the conversation become tense, I saw that people I know and care about were perceiving each other in negative ways and I found myself crying “Arugula! Aruugula!” ( Arugula is my safe word on Facebook http://kbjackson.com/i-think-my-brain-just-broke/)
I found myself wanting to explain to each one of my friends who the others are, what I know about them, and where they are coming from. It was an eye-opening experience. I kept thinking, “If they knew about each other what I know, they wouldn’t assume what’s in their heart.”
One friend chose not to engage because they realized their contributions might add fuel to the already stoked fire. Another deleted many of the comments they wish they hadn’t made. I know this was out of respect for me and I appreciate it greatly.
Every sentence that was pounced upon came from someone who has a unique perspective based on their own life experiences. Everyone who pounced upon a sentence brought their own life experiences to the conversation.
Two of my friends who commented on the post currently live in the South, and have for some time. Living in the South brings the concept of race relations to a whole other level.
One of my friends who commented is a former police officer who has dealt with having to defend his actions while on duty in a court of law.
One, my husband, comes from a family of police officers.
One is a pastor’s wife who helped create an organization to help local low-income mothers and children in need.
One is a pastor (not married to the wife above) who runs an organization dedicated to helping those in need, with a strong focus on serving the people of Haiti.
One is Haitian-born.
One is born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up seeing crack destroy the families of his surrounding community.
Two are teachers.
Most are college educated, at least two of whom have masters degrees.
All are hard- working and successful in their own fields.
Five were raised in my same small hometown.
One is a sitting member of the US Dept of Commerce/NOAA Diversity and Inclusion Counsel.
One is a social worker, who has worked for Child Protective Services, rehabilitation in the prison system and Adult Protective services and has witnessed societal horrors most of us couldn’t imagine.
One has worked as an Alaska state trooper and was present in full riot gear for the tumult following the not-guilty verdict of the LA police officers who assaulted Rodney King.
Most live in communities or near large metropolitan areas where police departments have had systemic racial investigations.
One has two white teenage sons, one has three black teenage sons.
One of those two men has to tell his sons to keep their hoods down and their hands where they can be seen.
One is dating a black man who has personally encountered racism, racial profiling and police harassment.
Two are black men who have personally encountered racism, racial profiling and police harassment.
One is a biracial woman who grew up in a nearly all-white town and is married to a black man who has personally encountered racism, racial profiling and police harassment.
Most are white, some of whom have personally witnessed racism, racial profiling and police harassment of minorities, while others have not.
All are responsible, law-abiding citizens.
All are caring, kind, loving people.
Several are Christians, whose mandate is to love others.
A couple are agnostic but believe passionately in caring for others.
Some are angry. Some are sad. Some are both.
All are my friends.
Don’t assume who is who, you could quite possibly be wrong.
My point is this: When a statement is made online to a stranger, they don’t know the heart behind it, the life experience behind it. We must “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” -Steven Covey.
So many of our contentious discussions could be mitigated if we followed this simple idea.
At the end of the day, my friendships with all of these people still stand. Do I get frustrated? Of course. Do they get frustrated with me? Absolutely. I actually got two separate messages from friends who read but did not participate in the conversation. One said “Katie, for the life of me I don’t know how you think the way you think about certain things, but I hope you and your family have a happy thanksgiving.”
The other read, “I would enjoy a friendly discussion with you at some point based on different view points.”
I consider both of those messages an encouragement that I am finally, after years of bullying my way through conversations and shoving my point of view down people’s throats, figuring out how to have healthy debates where people don’t leave despising me.
I continue to pray for peace and understanding in the midst of the anger and chaos.
The Title of this blog post comes from the 1966 poem by Charles C. Finn http://poetrybycharlescfinn.com/pages/please-hear-what-im-not-saying