There are so many things about life that are beyond my current understanding. Chief amongst these are the experiences of people whose backgrounds are different from my own.
I do not understand what it feels like to be the victim of an injustice or to perpetrate it.
I do not understand what it is like to be discriminated against daily, to patrol the streets, to fight in a war, to live in fear for myself or my family.
I do not understand why one would fan the flames of hate to instigate others or how others find the courage it takes to stand up and put them out.
Because of my own limited experience and ignorance my first recourse is to listen and learn. To ask questions to better appreciate the complexities and nuances of another’s situation and lived experience.
Like many, I’ve listened and heard many tell their truths in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Most recently, I heard several young students of color speak at a local protest – sharing in very real and specific terms their anger, frustrations and fears. Earlier in the week, I had separate conversations with local police who shared stories of solidarity with protestors as well as views I hadn’t previously considered. With each discussion, question, story, truth, my understanding increases, yet it is still incomplete.
Maya Angelou wrote that “demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
The operative phrase in her quote is “if we try.”
Paraphrasing a protester, I heard recently. Every interaction we have with someone else is an opportunity to build trust and understanding.
To see police kneeling or in some cases marching with protesters is an opportunity that did not go to waste.
Understanding and trust are precursors for effective action. It allows us to see the specificity and comprehensiveness of injustice that are not captured on camera. Critically it also illuminates what each of us can do to make a difference that goes beyond the symbolic to the substantive.
After the protests have subsided, what understanding and trust will we have gained from this time? And how will it change how we act and what together we can accomplish? That is the question I’m asking myself right now.