This post started out life very differently than it’s appearing here now. It was all about the false choice we are being presented with (support the police/damn the rioters or support the protestors/damn the cops) and the lack of critical thinking being displayed on both sides in Ferguson. It was a pretty long post, one of my longest in fact, at almost 2,000 words. I had a browser window that I had thrown every interesting story into for almost a week – and has used most of them as sources. I wrote down everything I was thinking and I thought getting it out, going through the writing process to refine my thoughts, would make me feel better. It didn’t – it made me feel worse. After writing it down, I was not only bothered by what was going on in Ferguson, I was bothered that I was bothered by it.
For a long time now I’ve tried to be very conscious of where things fall: my circle of influence or my circle of concern. I originally learned about this idea reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when I first got out of college. Recently I learned that, like most wisdom, the concept is much older, tracing itself back to the Stoics of Rome. The basic principle is that you classify everything into one of two buckets: influence, which are things you can do something about and concern, which you can’t. Focus on the things you can actually do something about and you’ll waste less time worrying about things that you can’t fix anyway. I guess if I had been listening to the message of the so called serenity prayer (the real one, not the watered down/edited one), I would have learned this a lot earlier.
The reason the original version of this post was bothering me was that it was all about things in my circle of concern: the fraying of society, police militarization and the use of divide and conquer tactics by the string pullers. So I deleted it . And I wrote this to get back into my circle of influence. Here’s some things I can do, that I hope I actually do:
- Starting closest to home, I am going to pick up working with my kids again to develop their critical thinking skills. I think so much of what is going on in Ferguson stems from lack of critical thinking and what takes its place when its absent: emotion or fear based response. I am thinking specifically about what has happened after Wilson shot Brown and and specifically NOT trying to make any comment on the incident that started it all. There is just too little I know and the story is changing so rapidly around the shooting to say anything about the starting point, but I think there is plenty that can be known about what has happened since. If a few more people on both sides were able to understand what was really going on, think about what they wanted to achieve, communicated with compassion and acted with humility, I think things would have taken a radically different course. Maybe my kids can help keep something like this from happening the future by being one of those “few more”.
- Moving out into the neighborhood, I am going to let the folks I am close to know that they don’t have to choose between supporting the police and supporting the protestors. That there is a third option, even though it isn’t presented by anyone. You can choose to support peace. You can choose to support the peaceful protestors who are seeking justice and the peaceful police (and individuals) who are protecting property. At the same time you can condemn the rioters and looters who are violating property rights and the cops that are violating human rights. I think the conversation should shift from what group we support and condemn to what actions we support and condemn, regardless of who does them. That conversation would actually start to solve the issues instead of make things worse.
Viktor Frankl said:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Choosing your response is critical thinking and and alongside growth and freedom, in that same space, lies peace as well.