How Do We Talk To The Children?

landscape-1445910041-g-talk-555173815We turn on the television to watch a couple of football teams duke it out on the gridiron and before the first play begins we see many of our heroes kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. It angers some of us, and others appreciate that every citizen enjoys the freedom to protest. We begin a national discussion that sometimes devolves into an argument about how we should react to this development. Our president insinuates himself into the commentary using a pejorative to address the athletes that he finds offensive and suggesting that those who dare to insult the country should be fired. We line up to take sides. Some turn off their televisions and vow to never watch the NFL again. Others celebrate the rights of Americans to exercise their freedom of speech regardless of whether or not we agree with their sentiments. Many simply shake their heads and attempt to ignore the whole thing. In the midst of all the brouhaha we wonder what we should tell our children. How should we explain to them what is happening?

We live in a country that was founded with a rebellion against the perceived tyranny of a government that had lost touch with the needs of the people. At first there were merely demonstrations of dissatisfaction with the ever growing demands and limitations being placed on the colonists in America by a king and parliament too removed from the realities of daily living in the strange faraway place that seemed so rough and wild. Eventually the whispers and grumbles took on a more daring turn with rebels pouring tea into the Boston Harbor and concerns becoming more and more vocal and strident. Then came the shot heard round the world, the volley that began a war for liberty. It was a treasonous time when the leaders of the revolution risked death by hanging to create a nation far different from anything the world had ever before seen.

Perhaps it was a fluke that the ragtag band of revolutionaries somehow managed to defeat the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Whatever the case they found themselves freed from the dictates of a government that had often ruled without consideration of the people, ordinary citizens who had insisted that they it was their birth right to have a voice in how they were to be treated. The new nation needed a Constitution, a set of rules to guide the decision making and management of a disparate group of people. The document that they created was at once both brilliant and imperfect, but it held the seeds for eventually moving toward a more inclusive and more perfect union. More than two hundred years later we still have work to do. We have had to face the hypocrisy of having been a democracy that allowed humans to be held as slaves and denied that women had the same rights as men. It took us perhaps to bit too long to remedy those situations, but we eventually managed to become more inclusive. In the meantime the residue of problems not adequately addressed from our government’s beginnings continue to demand attention, and so we have protests from some of our star athletes. Just what is it that they want?

If we begin with the individual who first remained seated during the playing of the national anthem we find that he was concerned that there is still racism in our country. He believed that in spite of a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights legislation there are still too many people in our country who do not receive the same level of equality as those who have held the privileges of liberty from the beginning days of our nation. He worried that many whose ancestors were once slaves are more likely to be brutalized or even murdered by law enforcement officers. He wanted to bring attention to these issues and so he remained seated. After a discussion with a member of the army after his first demonstration he changed his tactic to going down on one knee out of deference to those who have served our country in the military. His point was not to show a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem or our veterans, but to shine a light on issues that he felt we need to address as a nation.

This athlete’s cause had lost its energy to a large extent until President Trump made remarks at a political rally in Alabama that some felt were out of line and threatening. He called out any athletes who demonstrate their dissatisfaction by taking a knee and referred to them as “sons of bitches” who should be fired from their jobs. His remarks were well received by some citizens and abhorred by others. A national disagreement has ensued resulting in ever more professional athletes joining in the revolt by kneeling in solidarity with teammates who had been quietly protesting. So what is really going on here? Who is being patriotic and who is treasonous? How should we respond?

Let us start with a bit of the history of our national anthem and our pledge of allegiance. First it must be noted that we did not have a national anthem until March 3, 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a law deeming The Star Spangled Banner to be our national song to be sung at official gatherings. Several other tunes had been in the running and the winner was selected by a rather narrow margin. We might just as well have been singing America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Yankee Doodle, Hail Columbia, or My Country Tis of Thee all of which were finalists in a contest that began with a cartoon from Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame. It seems that on November 3, 1929, Mr. Ripley registered his amazement that the United States was one of the few countries in the world that did not have an official anthem. He urged his readers to write Congress asking the lawmakers to rectify this omission. More than five million people sent letters and the search for a fitting song ensued. Even after the decision was finalized there were many who were gravely disappointed by the ultimate choice and others who felt that if the Founding Fathers had wanted to formalize an anthem with all of its ritualistic insinuations they would have done so. Since that had not happened many took it to be a sign that the founders did not approve of such things. Nonetheless we had an official anthem and slowly but surely it became a fixture of American life.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag did not happen until 1942, when some citizens began to worry that the large numbers of immigrants who had come to this country might not understand the true nature of our nation. It was used mainly as an educational tool for children rather than a symbol of patriotism. The original version was written by a socialist newspaper editor and did not contain the words “under God.” That phrase was added in the nineteen fifties, so the history of pledges and anthems is a rather recent cultural phenomenon. Many religious groups exempted themselves from participating in such rituals because they felt that they should only swear their loyalty to God and not to a country.

So here we are today taking sides or ignoring the dust up altogether when the truth is that we can’t be certain that those who wrote our Constitution ever intended for our country to enshrine such symbols as indicators of patriotism or a lack of it. The protestors themselves insist that their intention was never to be disrespectful but to take advantage of their rights of freedom of speech as it was written in the First Amendment. Perhaps when discussing all of this with our children we would do well to attempt to determine how our leaders have interpreted that right over the history of the United States. So forthwith are a few quotes of merit. I will let the words of the individuals speak for themselves.

If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. —-George Washington

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. —-Benjamin Franklin

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people. —-Theodore Roosevelt

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. —-Harry Truman

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. —-Elie Wiesel

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. —-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Read to your children. Look up ideas together. Discuss issues from both sides. Dialogue with them without rhetoric or preconceived notions. Teach your children to open their minds to new possibilities. That is what they need. That is how to talk with them about what they see happening.

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For the Love

mlk8We hear a great deal about patriotism these days but what is it really? Is it only about displaying outward signs of allegiance to this great nation of ours, or is it something deeper, more visceral? I happen to believe that it is all about loving the United States of America so much that one is always concerned about it’s welfare. Sometimes that means having to do difficult things to ensure that democracy remains robust and available for each of us. That might mean serving in the military to protect freedoms, one of the noblest sacrifices that a citizen may make. It may also mean that an individual has to take a stand for what is right and just that is uncomfortable and maybe even misunderstood. Both of these behaviors are necessary at times in order for our country to sustain the principles upon which it was founded, and those which needed to be part of the compact made for the people of this land but were unfortunately omitted from the original declaration of rights. It is not only those who sing anthems and place their hands on their hearts who demonstrate patriotism, but also those who urge us to consider problems that need to be addressed to create an ever more perfect union.

I love this country in a very emotional way. I am filled with gratitude that I may call this glorious land my home, but I am not so prideful to believe that we are without our problems. We all know that there are certain difficulties that have plagued us from the very beginnings of our most remarkable government. It surely must give us pause to realize that we began this great democratic journey with slavery legitimized by law. How can we read the documents that counted enslaved people as two thirds of a person without feeling sorrow? Certainly we eventually had the moral courage to do what was right, but it should never have taken as long as it did. It is the main reason that I sob each time I stand inside the Lincoln Memorial and think upon the courage and patriotism that Abraham Lincoln possessed even to the point of being murdered for his beliefs. Thank God that he so loved this country that he was willing to endure great sorrow and the slings and arrows of criticism to finally set it on the right course. That was patriotism at its very best.

Most of our black neighbors are the descendants of slaves, people who came to this country in chains. A visit to an historic plantation is a painful experience. Walking through the splendor of the antebellum homes of slave owners and then seeing the horrific conditions in which their slaves lived is humbling and causes me to experience great sorrow. It doesn’t take much imagination upon seeing the implements by which the slaves were kept in line to realize how horrible their existence was. It is a blot on our history which we will only eliminate when we are all willing to accept that what happened to those who were treated as property was very wrong.

If we had simply moved forward once slavery was outlawed perhaps we would now be living as brothers and sisters. Instead we spent another hundred years segregating the blacks from our lives. I vividly remember what that looked like and it was ugly. Blacks lived in neighborhoods far from the rest of us. Their children were often housed in inferior schools, although there were incredible efforts made by their own people to overcome all of the educational handicaps that were thrown at them that even included barring black children from libraries. I remember the signs that kept our black neighbors from using our water fountains or bathrooms. We so cavalierly embarrassed our fellow citizens again and again. Sometimes there were even those who terrorized them with fiery crosses. I shudder when I think of a symbol of Jesus Himself being used in such a hateful way.

I could go on and on about what I witnessed, inhumane treatment that seemed unfair even to the child that I was. It was with great elation that I saw heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge our country to correct the inequalities that were legitimized with laws that were unjust. Without violence he led a movement that would eventually overturn many of the inequities, but not until he and his cause had endured great strife and violence. He is to this very day another of my heroes, equal in stature to Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King is in my mind one of the great patriots of American history who raised our consciousness and challenged us make our country a better place.

Many seem to believe that the equitable evolution of the United States of America is finished. Sadly there is still work to be done, questions to be considered. As long as we still have situations in which certain classes of people are considered less eligible for our God given rights and freedoms, we must continue to insist that we have the moral fortitude to continue the discussions and take the needed measures to perfect our system of government. Those who wish to make America better are the true patriots, and it up to all of us to acknowledge rather than condemn their efforts.

We tend to view violence and riots as nonproductive ways of fighting for rights. We don’t really listen to people who would burn and destroy. It somehow seems counter to their arguments for justice. So we should be open to hearing the grievances of those who choose more peaceful means of highlighting their causes. What are people to do when we reject both methods? What are they to think? How frustrated they must be when we turn out backs without attempting to understand their frustrations. Thus it is with our current situation. Our history with the people whose ancestors we treated with so much disrespect are merely asking that we try harder to show them that we no longer view them as somehow being lesser citizens than we are. We insult them when we only react to their pleas with anger or when we ignore them altogether and wrap ourselves in our flags of patriotism as if we are somehow better Americans. One who truly loves this country would want to pause long enough to consider why people would subject themselves to our ire. If things felt okay and wonderful to them surely they would not risk so much to stand up for what they believe to be right and just. Why then can we not at least take the time to listen and dialogue rather than indicting them and accusing them of being unAmerican? Isn’t that a dramatic step backward? Can’t we see the irony in suggesting that they go away if they don’t like what is happening to them?

My heart is filled with nothing but love and appreciation for this country, but I also understand that it is not yet perfect and maybe never will be, but I am enough of a patriot to want it to be. I truly believe the the greatest patriots that this nation has known have been those who stood for something so important and so real that they were literally willing to make every imaginable sacrifice for the good of their fellow citizens. I stand with Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the men and women who fight for all of our freedoms in foreign lands. I also stand with those who have an important message for us to really hear. I will still get goosebumps when I hear the national anthem. I will feel a sense of relief when I return to my country from foreign soul. I will pledge my allegiance with all of my heart, but I will never turn my back on anyone who simply wants to improve this great land. Like a parent who guides a child and builds his/her character, so too are those who alert us to the things that we are doing imperfectly the true patriots among us. 

 

Our Greatest Gift

bn-fi133_speech_gs_20141031151239I have long been a voracious reader, a willing student of things both old and new. I enjoy considering ideas and long for the days of my youth when academic institutions were places of free discussion, fountains of information from multiple avenues of consideration. I was taught by my academic mentors to be open to points of view different from my own and to listen carefully to even the strangest sounding arguments, for within even the ridiculous there is much to be learned. “Perception often defines individual truth” my professors suggested. Our beliefs are built on the foundations of our unique experiences. Our thinking is the sum total of the knowledge that we have learned and the emotions that we have felt. Our outlooks are slowly programmed as we travel through life. Unless we are willing to understand the totality of what has brought an individual to a particular conviction our arguments for or against will fall on deaf ears.

I loved the frankness of unforgettable discussions from my college days. We were encouraged to feel comfortable with a variety of philosophies. Our reading lists often included the works of thinkers who ran the gamut from the far left to the far right. We were told not to blindly accept any argument but rather to consider both the pros and cons of everything that we encountered. Lemmings and sheep were rarely welcome in the classrooms of my youth. We debated each idea on its merits and everyone felt free to hold a forum. The experience was exciting and it molded me into the open minded person that I have always attempted to be.

In the present days we seem to have adopted a different way of approaching conflicting ideas. The debates of old have evolved into wars of words. Certain ideas are not even allowed to be uttered. We are more often than not forced to choose sides even before we hear the totality of the arguments. Those who suggest that we look for compromise in thinking are thought to be non-thinkers, weaklings unwilling to take a stand. We are told that we must be on the right side of history as though there is a clear and concise way of determining which side that is. Our leaders expect us to be automatons who utter our beliefs in unison and without thoughts or questions. I shutter whenever I hear the same lines being repeated regardless of whether they come from the right or the left. Too many of us have become consumers of propaganda, believers without doing research. We follow the boy who cried wolf rather than the one who pointed out that the emperor has no clothes.

I have had to counsel college students who received failing grades on persuasive papers not because their arguments were not rational and grounded in research but because they did not regurgitate their professors’ points of view. I have spoken with young people who fear making their true beliefs known lest they become ostracized. I have watched friendships dissolve over conflicting philosophies. I wonder when our democratic society began to forget the importance of the liberty imbedded in our right to freedom of speech.

I came of age in turbulent times. My male peers were being sent to a war that many of us questioned and others supported. The dream of full integration for our Black brothers and sisters was yet to be fulfilled. My own religion was being transformed from an archaic Latin based liturgy to one that embraced many languages and tore down barriers between the clergy and the congregation. Women were forging new territory in careers once thought to be the exclusive domain of men. There was an excitement in the conversations that we had with one another. Sometimes we found ourselves in the company of friends whose thoughts were diametrically opposed to ours. We gathered around tables and debated sometimes heatedly but always in the spirit of learning. We almost always walked away with our friendships intact despite our differences.

Open debate is frowned upon today. We politely avoid topics that might bring about conflicts. We no longer know how to enjoy a lively discussion without becoming emotional. We spout sound bites rather than reasoned ideas. We close our minds and leave the room if anyone dares to utter political notions. Our feelings are so easily hurt. It is a sad state of affairs.

I find myself missing my mother-in-law more and more. She and I used to sit at her dining room table enjoying tea and cookies while our husbands watched football on Sunday afternoons. She was a convert to conservatism and I was still in my intensely radical progressivism days. We often spoke about the history of the world and the possibilities of its future. She wanted to know what I thought about the economy, international relations, religion and other subjects that would be taboo in most of today’s polite circles. She always listened with respect and then quietly presented her own reflections. We learned from each other without judgement. She was a brilliant woman who might have been intimidating had she simply closed her mind to what I had to say. Instead she taught me the power of truly open debate among friends. It is difficult to find such enjoyable adversaries like her in the super charged environment as we begin 2017.

I suspect that I am not the only one who is weary of the unofficial civil war that is waging across the globe. I’d like to think that our teachers and professors will one day return to a way of teaching our young that allows for great freedom in the exchange of ideas. I would like to see an end to the rampant use of group think in our institutions. We need more reality television like the thought provoking debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley that were so popular in the late sixties. I want our news reporters to state facts, not opinions. I would rather have them ask questions and then simply listen rather than arguing and attempting to push their own opinions on all of us. I will miss Gwen Ifill because she was one of the few journalists who always remained fair minded

I was impressed by something that Van Jones of CNN recently did. Rather than repeating the idea that those who voted for Donald Trump are mostly deplorable woman hating racists he set out to learn what had really prompted them to give their nod to Trump. He travelled to different parts of the country and sat informally across from Trump voters encouraging them to talk while he listened. What he found was that their main motivation was in wanting to be heard. They felt as though they had been forgotten and somehow Trump had made them believe that they were as important as anyone in America. It was not hatred that drove them to the polls but a sense of longing to be noticed.

In the long history of the world people have time and again asked for the freedom to voice their personal concerns and to state their ideas for solving problems. It has only been when humans have been willing to consider alternative points of view that progress has been made. Our Founding Fathers understood that. They set up a republic rather than a pure democracy because they realized that it was a way to hear the voices of even those in remote corners of the nation rather than only those in our most populated areas. They long ago sat through a hot summer risking their very lives so that we might one day be able to speak our minds without fear of being silenced or imprisoned. They heard the different voices from the colonies and compromised to insure that farmers would have as much power as industrialists. They found consensus between great thinkers as different at John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, those who advocated for a strong federal government and those intent on guarding the rights of the individual states. Their genius, with the help of James Madison, eventually gave us freedom of speech in a Bill of Rights that was unmatched in the history of the world.

Let us think twice before we continue to abridge our right to peaceably assemble or petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Let’s honor our differences rather than recoil from them. There is still room in this country for both the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Tea Party, for socialists and libertarians, for democrats and republicans. We might all want to become better acquainted with the members of each group and open our minds to what they are trying to say. Freedom of speech is perhaps our greatest gift as citizens let us all encourage its unfettered exercise.

Our Glorious Cause

colin-kaepernick-football-headshot-photoI’m a quiet person who doesn’t generally like to make waves. I prefer having a routine but enjoy an occasional adventure. I shy away from conflict but sometimes throw caution to the wind and take a stand. Like most people my days are mostly devoid of drama and I prefer it that way. In spite of my efforts to walk the middle road and keep the peace there have been times when I have felt compelled to speak my mind. Life has a way of placing us in situations that demand our attention whether we desire to become involved or not.

When I was nineteen years old my mother had the first of many psychotic breakdowns. I had never seen anything like her frightening behavior in all of my life. With no father and younger brothers still incapable of navigating the rough seas of caring for someone with a mental illness I was on my own. I still was not of legal age but I had to quickly learn how to make decisions on behalf of my mother and my family. The biggest mistake that I made on the first occasion of her illness was maintaining total respect for and deference to the doctor who treated my mom. I agreed to whatever he suggested even when my heart and soul told me that he was wrong. I had been raised to be polite and my gentle demeanor resulted in a series of decisions that I would always regret.

I’m a fast learner and when my mother’s next psychiatric episode occurred I was ready to take on the devil himself if need be. I was assertive with her new doctor and everyone else involved in her care. I became an outspoken advocate for her and her cause. My life and my personality changed forever. I finally understood that we may not wish to do so but sometimes we are forced to speak out for what we strongly believe is right and just. For each of us the causes that we embrace are highly personal, derived from life experiences that somehow made an indelible mark on our hearts. While others may believe that they understand our motivations the reality is that nobody else will ever completely know exactly how we feel.

I was judged for the way I handled my mother’s mental illness by people who had not walked in my shoes and who had turned away when I asked them to help me. Some people see me as a saint and others quietly whisper that I did more harm to my mom than good in the choices that I made. It is difficult for people to understand that even when I made mistakes or did things differently than they would have my motives were pure. My mother now rests with the angels in heaven but to this very day I speak of her life changing illness and the way I tried to help her without apology. I want the world to be aware of mental illness. I feel the need to open people’s eyes even when doing so makes them intensely uncomfortable. Honesty and a willingness to speak of the horror that my mother and my family endured is the only way that I may help to one day bring about a cure or at least a better way of dealing with this very real problem.

Mental illness is my cause along with education. These are the topics that I hold dear and I am thankful that I live in a time and place that allows me to voice my thoughts and opinions. My audience is small so my ideas are not nearly as impactful as I would like for them to be. I am one of many nameless faces in the world shouting in the wilderness. I would love to have a status so recognizable that my ideas would become news. Then perhaps my words might actually make a difference but for now I must be content with changing one mind at a time in a very tiny circle.

There are famous people with causes who have the power to move larger audiences. Glenn Close has become a beacon of hope for those of us who know the tragedy of mental illness. George Clooney is an outspoken advocate for human rights. Gary Sinise has devoted time and treasure to the Wounded Warrior Project. We usually applaud such efforts because they fall within the boundaries of our comfort zones. It is only when one of our heroes chooses to make us aware of something that we would rather ignore that we begin to make judgements about them that are not always fair.

Until recently I had no idea who Colin Kaepernick was. I don’t live in San Francisco and I don’t care that much about football. In all likelihood I would have gone my entire life without ever even hearing his name were it not for a moment when he chose to shine a light on something that bothers him as much as mental illness bothers me. His method for drawing attention to his cause was to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem. Some of those who witnessed his protest have gone ballistic in criticizing him both for that action and for the reasons that he has given for them.

The reality is that he has managed to do something remarkable. He has started a conversation about our rights as citizens of this country. Regardless of which side people espouse they are chattering away which is exactly what he hoped to accomplish. The problems that worried him are out in the open. He has shed a bright light on an uncomfortable topic and has done so with the possibility of damaging his reputation and his livelihood. That takes great courage, the kind that few of us, myself included, possess.

Mr. Kaepernick wants us to notice that a significant portion of our populace lives in fear of law enforcement. He wants us to understand that even a young black man raised by white parents is not immune to the forces of racism that still exist in some quarters of our country. He insists that in spite of education and success he and other black men and women endure the sting of hate simply because of the color of their skin. Whether we totally agree with him or not we have to admit that we have never walked in his world. We will never be able to know his reality. We must take him at his word and then begin to consider how we might begin to exchange honest dialogue about the situation that he has described.

Whether or not Colin Kaepernick stands for our national anthem is irrelevant. Our Constitution provides him with the right to rebel just as our forefathers did when they believed that they were living under a yoke of tyranny. Their actions were seemingly outrageous but they were cries for liberty. Theirs was a noble cause that sadly ended without assurances for a considerable portion of the citizenry. Over time we have slowly but surely attempted to correct their omissions. Traditions should never be so sacred that we allow them to stand when they are so obviously flawed. We had to outlaw slavery and give the vote to blacks and women. We had to find ways to include everyone in this great democratic experiment. Even to this day it is incumbent on all of us to correct the mistakes of the past. If so many who live among us are feeling so left out of our national pride then we need to take the time to hear them and to accept that they may know something that we don’t

I believe that we the people need to suspend our moral outrage each time someone alerts us to a festering problem. If King George had taken the time to listen to the protests of the colonists we might still be part of Great Britain. We need to stop the name calling and the madness. It does absolutely nothing to help in dealing with the issues. It is a diversion, a distraction that keeps us from hearing all sides of the discussions that we need to have. Perhaps what we really should do is simply listen to Mr. Kaepernick and celebrate that we are a country where freedom allows each of us to have an opinion. We have the opportunity to be part of the ongoing solution of mankind’s deepest problems. If we truly want to honor our country we will lower our voices and join in an effort to understand our disparate needs. It is our glorious cause.

Easy Does It

toleranceI’ve only felt total revulsion for a handful of people in my lifetime. One was a boyfriend that my mother had who was a real true blue racist and emotional abuser. Listening to him spout his political views made my skin crawl. Even worse was the power that he seemed to have over my mom. She eventually rid herself of him but not without a great deal of trauma. Around the same time I also abhorred President Richard Nixon. I sensed that he was a crook long before the rest of the world caught up to my thinking. I suppose that there are moments in everyone’s life when they find themselves in the role of a hater. It was an uncomfortable feeling for me because I generally attempt to find redeeming qualities in virtually every soul that I meet. For some reason those two were so vile that I was unable to open my heart to them.

In spite of my own experience of falling victim to hateful ways I still believe that the vast majority of people worldwide try very hard to be good. For the most part the haters are outliers and yet when we are victimized by them we tend to generalize their evilness to entire populations. The young man who shot up the church in Charleston was a white power deviant who represented only himself and a small group of people who lean to the far right. He in no way was typical of the average white person. The black man who shot five police officers in Dallas had his own set of problems none of which reflect the hearts and minds of African Americans in general. The list goes on and on. Muslims who kill party goers in San Bernadino are actually quite different from the majority of peaceful Muslims who live in our country. The shooter of school children in Connecticut was not a typical gun owner. Criminals and rapists come in all forms. To assert that they are mostly confined to a particular ethnicity is faulty thinking designed to rile unhealthy emotions. Of late so many of our politicians seem intent on making sweeping generalizations designed mainly to feather their own nests rather than to solve our real problems. The divisiveness that they are spreading does little good for any of us and leads to a choosing of sides that has no room for compromise.

We sadly play along with this ridiculousness all too often. If we decide that we don’t like some of President George W. Bush’s actions, we refuse to give him credit for doing anything right. He becomes a caricature that we only view as a lying idiot. If we have problems with President Obama we never allow ourselves to congratulate him even when he in fact does something remarkable. We only note his flaws and mistakes. We assert that haters are going to hate but never put ourselves in that category. We complain that our presidential candidates are ethically challenged but rarely mention our own making our country like the most dysfunctional of families. Perhaps it’s time for each of us to reflect a bit to determine if we are unfairly judging individuals or entire groups. If the recent spate of violent events has proven anything it is that we have problems that will require us to work together and yet we generally continue to carp back and forth. It is long past time for each of us to admit that all humans, including ourselves, are imperfect but rarely all bad. We should save the hatefulness that we dredge up so readily and so often for those who are truly evil.

I recently saw a video on Facebook of rival protestors who took the time to talk with each other and find common ground in the midst of what might have been a heated encounter. They broke through their own preconceived notions and by the end of their discussion they realized that they actually wanted the same things. Instead of being distracted by anger and division they realized that they would be more powerful by joining forces. It was a beautiful sight to see them linking arms and hugging one another. It’s something that I believe we need to try more often because the anger that seems so rampant surely isn’t helping anyone.

The Black Lives Matter group has brought our attention to the concerns that so many of our African American brothers and sisters have. The statistics show that they are far more likely to be stopped by police officers than any other group, often for little or no reason. For a perfectly honest, hard working black man to be killed over a broken tail light is absurd and yet such tragedies do occur. Unless the Black community raises awareness of such injustices we may never truly understand what life is like for people of color. Sadly some of the recent unnecessary killings of innocents or those whose infractions were minor have placed a spotlight on a dirty little secret that most of us never have to endure.

I often invite my former students to visit my home. I should not have to worry about whether those of minority status will be stopped by the police as they travel in my neighborhood but I always do. I warn them to stay within the 30 mile per hour speed limit that is strictly enforced by local law enforcement officers and pray that if for some reason they are targeted they will remain calm and not exacerbate the situation. I can only imagine how their parents feel whenever they go out into the world if I am so nervous for them.

On the other hand, the vast majority of law enforcement officers take grave risks on a daily basis just to keep us from harm. I cannot even imagine how much courage it must take to run into a dangerous situation when the rest of us are fleeing from it. We cannot generalize bad motives to all of them. Instead we need to work to ensure that criminal justice reforms enhance their jobs while extending fairness to all people. Perhaps we need to rethink how best to use their services. It may be time to relieve them from having to worry so much about broken tail lights or past due license tags.

Whenever we find ourselves leaning toward group think we should pause to assess the situation and our own prejudices. It is never healthy to jump to conclusions or accept statements based solely on appearances or alliances. We can’t fall into that kind of trap regardless of how we believe that our problems should be solved.

I remember a time when I took a group of honor students from South Houston Intermediate to Moody Gardens in Galveston. They were exceptionally well behaved and I was quite proud of them especially in comparison to a more middle class set of students who were also there. I was stunned when the employees continuously yelled at my kids for no apparent reason. It was as though they believed that my pupils were bound to create problems simply because of the way they looked. Like me, my principal eventually became so fed up with the workers’ negative attitudes that he reported them to their supervisors. I have never quite gotten over my embarrassment and outrage over the totally unfair treatment that traumatized all of our group. Since my kids were both well behaved and polite the only explanation for what happened was that they were being targeted because of their brown skin.

If anything positive is to come of the horrific days that we have been experiencing it should be a willingness to embrace all good people, which we know is the great majority. It’s time for us to be honest with one another and quit reverting to soundbites, absurdities, propaganda, and stereotyping. We have to consider that most Republicans may actually be nice and that the majority of Democrats have the best of intentions. It’s important for us to dialogue rather than revolt, show tolerance rather than prejudice. If those who would be our leaders can’t seem to work together without casting generalized aspersions on all members of the other side then we citizens need to take the lead. It is important that we not allow ourselves to fall victim to hyperbole regardless from whence it comes. We need to be the kind of people who cross over the lines that divide us to embrace our fellow human beings. We know its the right thing to do.