Conflict Resolution and Ferguson — The Good News

As a therapist, I can tell when a couple is doing well and when they are not. When both people act like jerks to each other and say, “We’re great”, I can see that they are not. When both people act lovingly and say “we’re great”, I can agree that they are.

When both parties get angry and let it all out, I see that change is in the air, because all of the real issues are out on the table, all of the false impressions and the true ones are on the table. Misunderstandings come to light and people can find a common language to describe what’s real. Does this always work? Well, to be honest, divorces still happen because once the work becomes clear, some people think it’s too much work to do.

But, more often than not, going from cold rage to warm passion is a good thing and it can lead to good make-up relations in the short-term and — if the work is done, a healthy relationship in the future.

This is what Ferguson has done. We have gone from a cold disrespect and rage to a hot expression of serious anger. “The truth shall set you free, but first it’ll make you miserable”. By the time this is over, we will have been through plenty of misery. But the anger will subside because there’s only so much of Ferguson to burn down and so much anger to go around. NOTE: I am not saying that violence is ever the answer. There are better ways to express anger and it’s easier if it’s done sooner rather than later. But here we are, and violence has already happened and will continue until it doesn’t anymore.

But, after this, White America can never say that they don’t know what Black America thinks or how upset they are. As my friends and I pour through all of this, we define and redefine our words. On this blog alone, we have differentiated between “race hatred“, “racism”, and “systemic racism”. We’re not throwing names at each other, we’re clarifying our version of reality. Black America probably already knows what White America thinks of it, but as both Sean and Bob point out, it’s not as cut-and-dry as that. I hopefully shed light on that thought as well.

Sean wants rationality and I don’t blame him for wanting that. I do, too. I think Bob does, as well. The difference is that I don’t expect rationality from people when there’s this much rage, and I’m aware that there is. So, let this thing burn itself out. It will. At some point, when there’s only cooler heads left, we can understand each other and correct our behavior according to what the other needs, even if we don’t “get it” on a gut level.

Police and administration in Ferguson can see what they did wrong, and what they did right. Protesters can see what they did wrong and what they did right. People will learn what “buttons” not to push, and what kinds of things just appear stupidly horrendous to the other, so as to avoid them. There are good people on the ground in Ferguson — among others, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, I am told. Nobody likes their city being burned to the ground because it is, after all, their city. A client recently told me that “anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will get sick”. Once people realize they are getting sick due to their anger, the chance for real healing exists.

I, for one, am willing to do the work, and I believe my friends are, as well.

Peace,

John

Ferguson, Race, and Police: What Now?

My friend Sean Murphy was right. According to the Grand Jury of Ferguson, MO, Darren Wilson didn’t do anything wrong, or at least criminal. I don’t like the verdict, but if those are the facts, those are the facts.

My African-American train friendĀ  and I were talking about the case and I asked her about “The Talk” with her daughter. I knew that parents had “The Talk” with their sons about interacting with the police, but I didn’t know if they had it with daughters and she assured me that they did. She spoke about what to do when pulled over and where not to go, because African-Americans “stick out” there.

You know we’re going to make a moral out of the story, right? The news will cover it, and people will write on Facebook and Twitter and we’ll all say what it means. What does this case mean, then, for life in America and whether we’re “post-racial”. Should she stop worrying? Should she tell her daughters not to worry?

I have to ask her, but I don’t think she’s going to go for it. Here’s the problem as we discussed it, with my spin on it somewhat. Most normal White people would not do anything as racist as beat someone up or shoot them simply because they were Black. In fact, most normal White people can’t even imagine doing that. Because they wouldn’t do it, and because they don’t experience it, they have a hard time believing it happens. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It just means that it’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been there.

Still, every day as a therapist, I hear about actions that no normal person would ever engage in. Incest, rape, and molestation are a lot more common that anyone can imagine. Drug use and robbery and domestic violence and male rape and … the list goes on. Did these things happen, as my clients maintain? In reality, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I choose to believe them. Why? Because they can’t imagine it happening, either, and they are frequently in shock. I believe them because something happened, because their bodies and their psyches are out-of-whack and they no longer act normally. They have experienced the unimaginable and believing them seems to relieve their misery.

So, Darren Wilson didn’t commit a crime. According to our laws, that’s the fact. Darren Wilson got justice, according to the law. Does that mean that “driving while Black” isn’t a reality? Does it mean that parents don’t have conversations with their children? Does it mean that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t exist? No, it doesn’t mean any of those things. Does it mean that we don’t need to consider what “appropriate force” is again? Does it mean that laws and consequences aren’t used more harshly against Blacks than Whites? No. It doesn’t mean that either.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t believe Blacks anymore — because of Tawana Brawley and now Michael Brown? Like everything else, we have a choice. We can listen to them and believe them and build friendships and trust or refuse to believe them and watch the divide between us widen. Listening and believing leads to healing. Not listening and not believing leads to a colder world and a divided world, and the fear that everybody’s crazy.

I am convinced that we need to reach across color lines in our day to day lives, that we need to listen and believe what we hear — not stupidly or blindly — but with open minds and hearts. If we do that, we will experience the racism which is so hard to imagine. If we see each other as brothers and sisters to start with, we can experience each others’ cultural experiences. Where we experience pain and the unimaginable, then we can become motivated to change things. Where things turn out to be lies, we have enough of a relationship to cope with it or claim the reality without the rest of the world being impacted.

These are our choices. In whatever stories we hear, this should be the process — 1) listen with an open mind 2) get the reality of the situation 3) make decisions based in the reality of the situation. That has happened in the case of Darren Wilson, as far as we know. Let’s make it so for everybody else in America.

Peace,

John