In late January of this year, a New York Times article by Arthur Brooks described a coming together of a Trump supporter and a Black Lives Matter leader during a political rally in Washington, D. C. It went like this:
Sept. 16, 2017, had the potential to be an awful day on the National Mall in Washington. It started with a rally, organized by a group of Trump supporters, called the Mother of All Rallies Patriot Unification Gathering. Counterprotesters from a group called Black Lives Matter of Greater New York began shouting at the crowd. The event’s organizers shouted back, and the two sides began moving toward each other. As the situation became more combustible, onlookers recorded the scene on their phones.
Suddenly, however, the confrontation took an unexpected turn. Tommy Gunn, the organizer of the pro-Trump rally, invited Hawk Newsome, the head of the Black Lives Matter group and the leader of the counterdemonstration, onto the stage. “We’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out,” Mr. Gunn said. “Whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.”
Mr. Newsome accepted the invitation and addressed the hostile crowd with evident sincerity. “I am an American,” he said. “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.”
When someone in the crowd shouted, “All lives matter!” Mr. Newsome responded: “You’re right, my brother, you’re right. You are so right. All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice. That is why we say black lives matter. If we really want to make America great, we do it together.”
The hostility dissipated. By the end of his brief address, many people were cheering for Mr. Newsome. Video shows demonstrators in friendly interactions. Mr. Newsome posed for pictures with a Trump rallier’s kids.
Did the two sides reach agreement on policy or President Trump? Doubtlessly not. Yet something more profound happened: They saw each other as people. This is an increasingly rare occurrence in our country; we have become skilled at avoiding practically all interaction with those with whom we disagree. We can live in neighborhoods, pick workplaces, choose universities and design our news exposure in a way that feeds ideological ghettoization and identity politics. It separates us as people and reduces others (and thus ourselves) to disembodied demographic characteristics.
So what can we do to make compassion and empathy less rare and random in America today? Be like Tommy Gunn, and without repudiating your own views, invite the “other” onto your stage (whatever your stage is). Be like Hawk Newsome and go where people are hostile and tell them what is in your heart. Reject the homogeneity and anonymity of social networks.
Despite a peak time when we need more than ever, school shootings like the one that occurred this week in Parkland, FL separate us further. As each shooting runs through its excruciating course, I’m increasingly surprised and saddened with the reaction seen from people I know in my community and online.
You see the criticism often depicted in a graphic that shows a line drawn through “Thoughts and Prayers” and underneath is instead written “Policy and Change.” But as Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, and others have said, precious few seem to offer any proposal that would have stopped this horror show.
Brooks’ piece was nice; I hope it happened the way he described it. But I’m more doubtful as time goes on that those who want gun confiscation are capable of ascribing good intentions to anyone who doesn’t agree with them. The screed goes like this: Don’t talk to me about your right to own a gun. Your Second Amendment just killed seventeen people!
If you’re not willing to admit that gun enthusiasts – or those who may not own a single firearm but support an American’s right to defend himself — are equally torn apart by this awful story, if you’re not willing to get past the notion that only those who support a particular type of gun ban or an all-gun confiscation program in the United States, are the ones with a soul, and if you declare “we must do something!” and then log off social media without offering up a plan that we can at least discuss openly and calmly, we will never address this issue in any material way, and we have nothing else to say to each other.
Image: Excerpted from: CC0 Creative Commons; https://pixabay.com/en/monochrome-people-blur-hands-young-3113668/