What if the young woman did not fear an unknown attacker?
What if the child did not fear the stranger?
What if the teen did not fear their bullying peer?
What if the black man did not fear the police?
What if the Anishinaabe woman did not fear her abduction?
What if the refugee did not fear those charged with their processing and asylum?
What if the faithful did not fear their God?
What if the bigot did not fear?
We fear what we don’t understand, among other things. I’m not discounting inherent dangers such as heights, or in my case, chit chat. Our society is in a constant state of heightened adrenaline, ready to fight or take flight, and some of our leaders and media have capitalized on this seizing power and influence. We suffer a lack of empathy, collectively crippling us; this prevents progression through civil conversation, trapping us in a downward spiral of distrust and anger.
What if we tried this. Begin any exchange with another under the assumption they are doing the best that they can. I know, I know, how incredibly (and wondrously) naive. I’m not giving permission to excuse or accept the racism, hate, or general repugnant behavior. Yes, some people are just the shits. But, everyone’s behavior has an origin, and when when I meet someone, I have no idea about their story; their story filters every input their brain absorbs and attaches that experience to a previous memory, coloring the new experience. You cannot separate a person’s present behavior from their life experience. Again, this is not to excuse being an ass.
I do try and always begin from the premise that we both are bringing their best to the table–even if that best is woefully inadequate for a civil society. So, what does this naivete get me? It provides me a starting point for conversation, though I admit I often don’t see the opportunity due to my own blinders or lack of social skill–but I do work on it. It provides a place for empathy, trust, and even gratitude for their life experience and very existence. While it does not justify behavior causing fear or harm to others, it provides respite from feelings of anger, despair and futility.
This is not altruism or selflessness. I’m also hoping they do the same for me because there is plenty, for which I need grace. This also is not offering pity or a southern “Oh, bless your heart.” We know what that really means. It must be a sincere intent to understand what is at the root of another’s story.
What if you offered grace?
What if we could have difficult conversations and repair this fractured republic?
What if we had this hope?
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