I hope I have the courage to stop filming and walk toward the police calling their attention to someone’s distress. I hope I have the courage to risk arrest or being shot to advocate for someone’s life.
I hope I have the courage to stand quietly in front of a riot and not participate. I hope I have the courage to be the calming force in a frenzied world.
I hope I have the courage to speak out. I hope I have the courage to get back up and try again after failing to speak clearly and effectively.
I hope I have the courage to maintain my position no matter who disagrees with me. I hope I have the courage to be countercultural.
I hope I have the courage to speak softly, and without anger. I hope I have the courage to live in empathy with the most hurtful people. I hope I have the courage to search for the remnants of God’s image in those that are hurtful.
I hope I have the courage to live in the tension of God’s promise of unity (Ps. 66.4), while watching the daily horror of hate.
I hope I have the courage to mourn.
I hope I have the courage to understand.
I hope I have the courage to love.
I’ve been so caught by the hypothetical of what would’ve happened if the filming of the George Floyd murder had stopped and someone had, slowly, quietly, arms raised, walked toward the police saying, “Excuse me, he looks like he’s in distress. Please assess him. He’s saying he can’t breathe.” Would that person have risked their own arrest? Would they be at risk of being shot? What if that person had kids? What if the kids were present? Would I have the courage to put my kids in the care of a bystander, and walk toward the police? Would the risk of my kids watching my arrest or shooting be worth the powerful demonstration that the vulnerable are not to be tormented? Would I have the courage to quietly combat authority? Do I have fortitude, empathy and the ability to listen in order to make a real and lasting difference?
Do I have the ability to recognize and counter corrupt authority? Do I have the ability to take a stand? In the famous, and admittedly debated, Milgram Shock Experiments, subjects were instructed to electrically shock an individual in response to wrong answers given in a memory test. An overwhelming amount of subjects were willing to administer a dangerous or even lethal amount of electric shock at the insistence of the authority in this experiment. Although no one was actually shocked during experiment, the subject was led to believe his actions were causing great discomfort and even harm. Yet many continued at the insistence of the authority figure . The experiment was later repeated by Dateline NBC with more hopeful results. A much lesser percentage of subjects were willing to administer the shocks to such a severe degree . Which kind of person would I be? Would I recognize the harm and respond? How long would it take me to call into question the actions of those around me? Perhaps my reactions are related to how intimately I can understand the experience of the person in front of me.
Empathy – Empathy is not the act of agreeing with the person in front of you. Empathy is seeing and responding to cues from the other person that hints to what they may be feeling. Each person retains their separate identity and opinions, but are able to understand the other’s subjective reality . So I just want to be really, really clear – I don’t agree with police brutality, I don’t agree with destruction of personal property, but I am challenging myself to question. What causes the callousness that enable one human to so carelessly murder another human being? What happened in that officer’s brain that he didn’t respond (or perhaps notice) his extreme actions? What kind of desperation are the rioters feeling that destruction of property is seen as their only option for getting their point across? I am not advocating for any of these actions, but empathy requires me to ask what caused the problem that instituted the actions? What horrors are not being addressed that these are the resulting actions? When I can begin to explore the answers to those questions, I can begin to be a part of the solution, rather than being a contributor to the problem. Oh, but isn’t this the most gut wrenching endeavor I will ever embark upon? To truly empathize, is to die a little – a death to self and the pride of being right. A death of the power of knowing, an awakening to all that I might not fully understand. Now that is scary!
Holding up a clearly blue piece of paper to the screen, the presenter asked the color to be named. He then asked those on the stage behind him to name paper color. The shocking response was, “Orange.” As confusing as this circumstance was, it all became clear when the presenter turned the paper over, revealing the sheet of paper to be differently colored on each side. One side was orange, one side blue. While a bit silly and possibly even a predicable scenario, this so clearly illustrates how I really cannot understand what I cannot see . It then become my responsibility to seek to understand what I don’t understand . I must develop a curiosity for why I can be so certain of a thing, and others can be so certain of the opposite thing. How is that possible?! And did I mention that this idea sounds like entering a terrifying black hole?
How many times have I jumped into someone’s description with a “perfect” solution to their “problem?” It’s so easy right? “In a culture of listening to react and respond, we need to become a culture of listening to understand.” Listening to understand is listening for what I don’t yet know. Listening to understand is listening to why the person feels so strongly. Listening to understand is listening for what harm the other may have endured. Listening to understand is empathy. Listening to understand – empathy - is not agreement with their actions. Listening to understand is saying to the one in front of me, I remember being extremely angry at the harm that was inflicted upon me. I understand what if feels like to be so hurt, and so angry. Listening to understand is saying I remember when I was so caught up in my own world, that I was unkind to those around me. I understand what it’s like to fail and hurt others around me. Empathy, listening does not condone. Empathy, listening paves the way through the horror, and creates a path towards reconciliation and healing.
Did I mention this is an excruciating reality to which we are called? But the pain of learning to understand from another perspective is worth every ounce of effort it takes! It is like waking up from a two dimensional dream to find that life is actually in three dimensions! Something we thought to be black and white is actually a beautiful canvas painted in an array of brilliant colors.
Lord, give me the courage to speak up, stand up, stand firm, and act in your love, even when there are affronts to what I have to say. Give me the courage to seek understanding. Grant the courage to love the unlovable, while simultaneously advocate for the vulnerable. Help me to own my own agency, knowing that my leaders need me to call them to into a greater understanding of what it means to care for the vulnerable. Help me to see the other through your eyes. Help me to understand the pain behind horrid actions. Help me to see the remnants of you in their eyes. Help me to listen to the broken, less to determine a response, and more to hear the heart of the other; the person behind the actions, the image of God that has been so marred in our world. May I not be so concerned with my own life that I miss the needs of the world around me . Lord, help us all in this excruciating, hopeful endeavor.
DeYoung, Patricia A. "Beginning with the Basics: Structure, Ethics, and Empathy." In Relational Psychotherapy: A Primer, by Patricia A. DeYoung. New York: Routledge, 2003.
McClellan, Earl as quoted in "Amazing Grace: Part One, Grace for this Moment." Weekend Sermon Seri. Life Center, 2020. https://www.lifecenter.com/messages-list/amazinggracewk1.
McLeod, Saul. "The Milgram Shock Experiment." Simply Psychology. 2017. https://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html.
Reliford, Richard. Personal Communication. June 06, 2020.
Shermer, Michael. "Shock and Awe." Scientific American, 2012: 86.
Solie, Tyler. "Amazing Grace: Part One, Grace for this Moment." Life Center Church. Tacoma: Life Center, 2020. https://www.lifecenter.com/messages-list/amazinggracewk1.