Let’s talk about Ferguson. Or rather, let’s not.
I suppose I’m outgrowing my shyness towards political issues because that’s all this is: political. I suppose my new pattern is to simply wait until the first wave of anger subsides.
It’s not even this particular event that I want to write about, but rather a pattern of popular outrage and moral condemnation every time an individual makes a mistake in a rather public way.
At the end of the day, which is worse: believing the stereotype that black people are criminals, or circulating the stereotype that white people are racists?
To be sure, there are problems in our society. There always have been. But the solution to these many and varied issues is not to systematically and painfully extract each and every stereotype and replace it with a slightly less damning stereotype. That process has already proven to be time-consuming and unfruitful.
The solution is a completely radical upheaval of our view towards ALL people, and it starts with each of us in our own personal lives.
Our national audience is always waiting, fangs barred, to pounce on the latest public figure as soon as there is a slip up, rip him to shreds, and use his carcass as a banner for whatever political agenda they think is most wrong with America currently. Hate begets hate. We love having a moral basement. We love being able to say that we are better that racist white cops, that we are not part of the problem. We point and wag our fingers at an unspecified swath of people and assert that “they” are the problem. “They” are the ones who need to change, who need to scrutinize their actions and their morals.
Is this true? If we really believe American is filled with racists and we constitute the American public, isn’t it worth looking first to ourselves for the problem, and subsequently the solution?
Oh, but it’s always so much easier to blame other people, especially when they can’t argue back. We’re always much more unwilling to extrapolate from these events and apply the principles in our own lives. But no matter how much political jockeying and lobbying we can finagle, no matter how many people we can bully into agreeing with us, the true power that we wield as individuals is the power to enact deep, meaningful change in our own lives, to live by a true set of principles and allow that to guide us into the future with integrity.
How many of us can honestly say that we do not employ stereotypes of our own? The effects may seem less drastic, no one might die as a result, but when did emotionally wounding another human being become any less important than physically wounding one? Is prolonging life really all we care about? Are we willing to settle for that? Or do we also value our happiness, and the happiness of our fellow citizens?
What are the unflattering thoughts that come to mind when you see a mother yelling at her unruly children? Teenagers being loud and obstinate? Overweight people wearing tight clothes? Tourists causing foot traffic while wielding three maps and an iPhone? Women gossiping? Men making untoward remarks? Or when you can’t understand the Asian person at that take out Chinese place? Or when someone disagrees with your political opinions? What are the words that come to mind? Idiot? Bigot? FOB? Fat bitch?
How many times a day do we put people in these boxes for our idle entertainment? And yet we become outraged when someone else makes this mistake once in a way that simply has more obvious consequences.
We really can make the decision to regard each individual as a human being, to treat them all with compassion. If you do this, no horns will sound, no neon signs will appear, and no confetti will fall from the sky. You might not even say anything in a given instance. But it will be a significant change of heart. There will be no public outcry but it is with these itty, bitty steps that we can begin to transform our world for the better.
We wait for crisis after crisis to jar us to the fact that there is something wrong with our current life and then after the crisis hits, we aim our sights abysmally low. All we want is to upend one particular stereotype? Sure, it would help, but if we all genuinely cared about one another, what would that do to the crime in the world? What if there was so little crime in the world that these incidents wouldn’t even come to pass?
It might sound like dreaming, but only if you try to effect the change through angry Facebook posts and hashtags and lobbying politicians. People act in societally damaging ways only because of a serious emotional lack in their lives. If we all personally made a commitment to be aware of that and view the rest of the world with charity in our hearts, it would go a long way.