Anyone can incite anger, fear and frustration. These negative, base emotions rarely take individuals, organizations or communities upward or forward. Insight, on the other hand, is hard. Insight takes courage to cultivate, along with patience, humility and careful consideration. Insight elevates.
The idea of incite versus insight was shared with me by my friend and colleague Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of The Church News. Her astute observation on the difference of these two words came as we watched protests transform from peaceful and appropriate demonstrations into dangerous and destructive events. I have been pondering her words all week.
We are in the midst of great civil unrest. The death of George Floyd under the knee of a law enforcement officer has provided a tragic spark for a crucial and uncomfortable conversation in our nation. The heartrending and senseless loss of life should not incite a civil war, but instead fan an illuminating flame by which America can have a civil conversation.
Escalated conditions make it difficult to have elevated conversations. But that is the test and the quest we must pass and pursue.
As we embark on this journey, it is vital to recognize that we Americans agree on a wide range of issues relating to race and the current condition of the country. Recent national polling by Scott Rasmussen shows that almost every American agrees that perpetrating officers should be arrested and prosecuted. A majority of citizens believe white Americans are treated better by law enforcement.
In fact, Rasmussen noted the impact of that belief in these numbers: “If they were approached by a police officer while walking down the street alone, 72% of black Americans would be ‘Nervous’. That includes 39% who would be ‘Very Nervous’. Yet, among white Americans, only 11% would be ‘Very Nervous’ and another 28% ‘Somewhat Nervous’.” Clearly, that is not acceptable and must change.
Americans also agree for the need of transparency and regular review of law enforcement’s practices and procedures. Citizens across the political spectrum support meaningful criminal justice reform. Most accept the premise that most law enforcement officers do the right thing most of time in serving and protecting our communities. The vast majority of Americans believe racism must be rooted out of our communities. Most citizens believe protests and First Amendment rights must be protected for the insight they can foster. People agree that those inciting violence, vandalism and riots should be prosecuted.
In short, most Americans today concur with Abraham Lincoln when he declared that the purpose of government was “to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life.”
The list of issues where the citizens of this nation agree relating to race is long. But it begs the question, “If we truly do agree on so many things, why are we not making progress?”
Too many of our elected officials, local leaders and national media trade on inciting anger and frustration. The currency of fame, power, influence and political capital causes them, too often, to take isolated incidents and inflame them as indicative of the attitudes and actions of all Americans.
And, yes, there are some citizens who simply don’t want change in our society.
We truly have to wonder why many powerful people won’t welcome the insight that comes from real conversations. We each have to ask ourselves what our role is in the ongoing incitement of emotions and then embrace the pursuit of elevating insight-ment of lasting solutions.
My friend and the New York Times bestselling author of “Crucial Conversations,” Joseph Grenny, made a comment on my radio show this week that grabbed my attention. He said he has done a great deal of work over the years in South Africa, and that in the nation’s regular polling of its people regarding race relations, there is one question that could transform everything: “In the last six months have you had someone from another race over for lunch or dinner?”
If each of us had someone over for lunch or dinner who didn’t look like, believe like or live like we do — every six months — imagine the insight such interaction could create and the difference it could make.
The Rev. Amos Brown, chairman of the religious affairs committee for the NAACP and pastor at the historic Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, understands how such conversations lead to friendship and then partnership. The Rev. Brown was one of the last students taught by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I first met Rev. Brown in Detroit last year at the NAACP annual convention. In an interview he spoke of the unique friendship and partnership that started between him and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through these men, with years of life-experience between them, the two organizations ultimately came together to deliver training classes on self reliance, financial literacy, education and career development for individuals and families in minority and inner-city communities.
Rather than chasing the divide, these two groups have found common ground, pursued inspiring insights and trail-blazed new opportunities. They have shown that lessons can be learned from the past and steps can be taken toward a bright future.
The Rev. Brown concluded our interview, saying, “Each of us has something to offer. We used to sing that old song in nursery school, ‘The more we get together the happier we’ll be. For your song will be my song and my song will be your song, the more we get together the happier we’ll be.’ The more we work together, I would add, the happier we’ll be.”
It would be impossible to incite anger or fear if we began to truly get together, work together and strive to understand and appreciate one another’s song. The insight of such a commitment would create friendships, relationships and partnerships along with communities and a United States of America where every citizen would gain the insight that, together, the happier we’ll be.