Doesn’t it seem as if the world is really loud right now?
The volume of the discord regarding police, young black men, and each group’s defenders, as well as that regarding insidious terrorism, has increased over the past few weeks so that I can hardly hear myself think. I am weary of hate and violence, and people’s shouting at each other incessantly, and guns, and I feel absolutely impotent to do anything about it. I try to look at all sides of each argument before making a decision – I guess that’s my education and training speaking – but my life experiences, which are different from every other person’s, give me a certain perspective, while others’ experiences give them a different outlook. And so we end up not listening to each other, not being patient with each other, not even pretending to offer each other empathy.
That’s why I was happy to read Cmdr. Larry Ward’s guest column in Thursday’s Democrat. He and I have had different experiences, but from those experiences come viewpoints that are similar when dealing with the vapid idea that one side is completely right or completely wrong. In discussing the fallout from the latest tragedies involving young black men and police in some US cities, and from the shocking, terrible assassinations of police officers in Dallas, Cmdr. Ward acknowledges that not all police officers are exemplary, nor do all act in an exemplary manner. In the same vein, he recognizes that not all young black men are thugs, nor do all act like thugs. In fact, Cmdr. Ward says that he does not tolerate thugs, whether they be civilian or in the police force.
I agree with that philosophy. Just because a person is a police officer does not mean that he or she is without fault or bias, and just because a person is young and black and a man does not mean that he is inherently evil. Each person is different, and we all have an obligation to recognize that and not lump people into categories.
My opinions have evolved over the years, as I was teaching my daughter that all persons are to be treated civilly and with regard, and as my job turned from sole advocate to neutral jurist. Living in Afghanistan, in a culture completely foreign to ours, also shaped my worldview. Similarly, Cmdr. Ward mentions his experiences in Iraq, saying that while he was there, he told his subordinates to “make life hard on no man,” and to try to walk in another’s shoes, especially when we are in his country.
Before I went to Afghanistan, I had never met anyone of the Muslim faith, but working daily with young Afghan men told me that not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, all my colleagues were simply trying to do as most of us do – make a living for their families. In six months, I met no one who regarded violent extremists as people to emulate.
As far as race in this country, I grew up in a town where everyone was white. One black family lived in West Plains, but other than that, the only time I every saw anyone of color was when we went to Springfield or Memphis to shop. Even William Jewell was pretty homogenous. Fewer than 75 black students attended, and at that time, I wasn’t sure why those students needed to have a Black Student Union. It wasn’t until I was in Afghanistan that I realized what it felt like to be the “only” in a room. That was when I fully understood that college group’s desire for a “union.” And by that time, I was 59 years old.
It is easy to generalize and to hold an entire group responsible for the acts of a few. But to do so further isolates us from each other, turns us against each other, and puts us in an “us vs. them” mentality. The results of that kind of mentality are evident right now.
Who are we really?
I will continue to hope that we are people who hold individuals, rather than groups, accountable for their actions – whether those actions be good or bad, that we understand that we are all different, that we don’t call each other names, that we try to give people the benefit of the doubt, that we wait to hear all the facts before drawing a conclusion, and that we treat people with respect and compassion.
Additionally, I hope we are thoughtful people, realizing that, as Cmdr. Ward said, not everything we see on social media is true, and refraining from repeating harsh, fear-inspiring, and unproved rhetoric because it comports with our own ideas.
I keep saying this because I believe it to be true: We are all in this together, and the sooner we start doing unto others as we wish to be done to us, the sooner we will find peace. I hope it begins today.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.