It can feel as if the world is coming undone before our very eyes. In just the past few weeks, alone, we have witnessed the Orlando massacre. More deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Falcon Heights, MN. Great Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Donald Trump’s birdcalls through the use of anti-Semitic symbols. Hillary Clinton’s email fiasco and the heated political rhetoric in response to it. And then: Last night’s killing of multiple police officers in Dallas.
Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Each of these events is like an ink-blot test. Different people look at them, come up with entirely different reactions and attach to them entirely different causes. After Orlando, one could watch different news casts, and the different guests on them, and come away thinking that they were not even speaking about the same event. Some talked in terms of terrorism and the root-cause being Islamic extremism and ISIS. Others talked in terms of gun control and domestic hate. Some mentioned that this tragedy occurred at a gay nightclub, while others seemingly refused to utter the word “gay.” Still others noted that the mass shooting happened on the club’s Latin night, while others did not.
Perhaps the saddest part of this is that each group spoke as if they live in a vacuum, without any obligation or responsibility—or desire—to engage with the other. No, “the other” is the enemy now.
Meanwhile, we continue to stand witness to horrific shootings of African Americans by law enforcement, the very group that exists to protect, not kill. But just how “recent” are such shootings; is this really something new? For people of color, the fear of law enforcement is a reality that far too many individuals and communities have long lived with. Only now are these deaths something more visible to those of us whose days are not riddled by such fear. But what are the implications of this? Do we merely continue to mourn each new death without any new response?
In Great Britain, rural areas and small-towns in England overwhelmed more cosmopolitan urban areas in voting to exit the European Union. Consider this simple question: Why? What messages were these voters sending? One can argue 'til the cows come home whether it was “in their best interest” to vote for “Brexit.” But before such mind-numbing debate overwhelms our senses, or causes us to lock into a point of view, shouldn’t we first seek to better understand what is motivating their vote—indeed, what is spurring their fears and concerns? Perhaps the lesson here for the U.S. is not whether one supports Donald Trump or not, but rather, what are his supporters—our fellow Americans—trying to say through their support in these troubled times?
There’s an old country song the refrain of which is, “I can’t see me in your eyes anymore.” What people want more than anything—what people need more than anything—is for their reality to be reflected and acknowledged in our common discourse. That requires us to face that reality, even if it doesn’t fit with our own—no, especially when it doesn’t fit with our own.
Each of us can choose to move ahead as isolated individuals, as fragmented groups, as adherents to one point of view over another, but that will never work. We cannot go it alone, on our own. Seeing our own reality, without seeing that of others, is a recipe for a further breakdown of society.
The costs are real. This isn’t political philosophy. It’s reality.