A global pandemic. Awareness of systemic racism. Calls for justice. Calls for order. How can a high school teacher support and encourage students as they’re receiving messages of division and marginalization during a social quarantine? I’m not sure, but I’m going to try to share some positive thoughts on inclusivity, unity, and hope and see what happens.
Human connections bring meaning to our lives. The love of a family member or a friend makes us feel safe and valued, encouraging us to return that love and support. These are the threads that build the fabric of a community. When someone threatens this community, fear and anger drive us to push back this threat creating a division between “us” and “them.” When we let fear and anger drive our actions, the healthy intention to protect our loved ones actually creates division and conflict.
An alternative response to a threat is to seek understanding. Is the threat simply someone who looks or thinks differently than me? Is the threat from someone who feels angry or afraid? If I respond with compassion, support, and love, can I deescalate a situation and build a bridge instead of creating division?
Unfortunately, in today’s society, we value identities more than communities. I am a man, not a woman. I am white, not black. I am a Democrat, not a Republican. I attended private school, not public school. These features, some of which I was born into and some that I chose, direct me towards groups of people who will agree with me and support me. They also tell me where to buy my clothes, what neighborhoods to live in, which news channel to watch, and what jobs to apply for. Quickly, my whole life experience is reinforcing attachment to a particular identity, and that attachment inhibits me from being a bridge for diversity.
So what if we valued community more than identity? What if I cared more about helping people who look and think differently from me to feel safe in my community than protecting my community from outsiders? What if I prioritized listening to and understanding our differences rather than pushing my beliefs on others? As a white man in America, I live with privilege. What if we all used our privilege to lift up the marginalized instead of simply reinforcing our own privilege?
In order to build a better future for our children and grandchildren, we must overcome the divisions in our society and work together to find solutions that benefit all parties. We must listen and love instead of blaming and withdrawing. As we face the challenges of COVID-19, institutional racism, and political division, let’s have conversations that unite us towards understanding and long-term solutions. This starts by each of us facing the anger, fear, and greed within, accepting that change is fundamental truth, and committing to embracing the future with love, compassion, and faith as we address these difficult issues. Let us stand together to build a brighter future for everyone.