My brain has been reeling from the events that are taking place in the US following the awful murder of the unarmed black man, George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. While SpaceX was making history with the launch of its Crew Dragon carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, here on Earth we are still trying to solve the problem of racism and our inability to live together in harmony.
I would imagine that many of you are feeling the same as me – sad and confused. Where is the civility, respect and tolerance that is so desperately needed for our society to thrive? If we look around us with open eyes, we will see that the same intolerance that is rife in the US and the root cause of all the violence we are seeing, is also present where we live. If it’s not talk of immigrants taking our jobs, or Muslims taking over the world, it is anti-China rhetoric and discrimination against the homeless. And then there’s the even deadlier disease of white supremacy and our preoccupation with a race war that has been at play for centuries and gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan back in 1865. This ugly organisation, along with a number of other secret groups, continues to use violence to intimidate black people across the US today. That in itself is a form of terrorism that has divided society and has seeped into the core of many institutions, the same ones that have declared war on terrorism overseas.
Violence begets violence
As you will know from my previous posts, I am a peaceful protestor. My hope has always been that we can and will tackle these issues not by shouting or using guns, but by presenting an intelligent argument that educates and turns people at the heart. But I am afraid that the peaceful protests ended in violence in many US cities simply because of how they were handled by the so-called peace-keeping forces. It is clear from the video footage that the police were heavy-handed in their approach, especially when they fired tear-gas and rubber bullets at the crowds. I have no doubt that these actions galvanised protestors and led to more violence. Come on, if you’re desperately trying to have your voice heard in a peaceful way and you are met with violence, surely you are going to believe that the only legitimate response is violence. Or are you just going to take it lying down? It doesn’t help that the president of the US tweeted ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ If that’s not the glorification of violence, then I don’t know what is. Nobody can argue that the US does not use violence to get its own way when it spends such a massive percentage of its budget on weapons. No wonder there is so much violence on its streets.
Us and them
So, what the hell is wrong with us? Why are we so aggressive all the time? I say ‘we’ loosely because I don’t think women are as aggressive as men, generally. If we look at the evolution of man, it seems that his aggression was born of fear of being wiped out. This fear led to the need to form allegiances with others and to find strength in numbers. This then led to a mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This would have been fine if it hadn’t gone to the next level where ‘us’ believed they were superior to ‘them’ and started fighting for power. Anyone who was part of ‘us’ was understood, accepted and even loved but anyone who was part of ‘them’ was not. As long as you are part of ‘us’, we can empathise with you, otherwise we are not empathic. This was the birth of intolerance, and it is well and truly as alive today as it was back then.
The smaller the world gets …
The good news is that, over the last century, researchers studying race have found that education and awareness can help to reduce the number of people who are racist in the world. It is true that the world is getting smaller and we are getting to know more about each other thanks to technology and international travel. I believe that this is slowly causing a shift in who we empathise with. Race, creed or ideology shouldn’t take from the fact that we are all human beings and we are all equal. The more we can instil this message in those around us, the less chance there is that intolerance can take a hold.
Who are you to judge?
The title of my blog this week came from the old adage ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. You might have been thinking that I had finally got my act together and had something to show you, but not yet I’m afraid. The book cover I am referring to is the one that I stumble over sometimes. If I can use it as a metaphor, let me share one of my own failings with you. There is an accent of a certain country that triggers something very uncomfortable in me. For a long time, I have to admit, upon hearing it I would roll my eyes to heaven in disgust because of what I associated with that accent. I now realise that I was being intolerant. How could I write off an entire country’s people because of the awful things that might have occurred there? Was I not judging a book by its cover? Was I not giving that person a chance to contradict what I thought I knew about them? The answer is yes on both counts.
I think we should all scrutinise our biases and make sure that we are not allowing them to skew the view of the real person behind the skin colour, the accent, the church they belong to, the place they live, the person they love, the food they eat and how they eat it and so on. If we can see that every person is just the same as us, trying their best to live a wholesome life, then we are more likely to show empathy towards them and we are more likely to create a more peaceful world to live in. We should never underestimate the power each of us has to have an impact. Just like every drop of rain will one day make a river, every show of empathy to our fellow man will one day make a better world.
I’ll leave you with not just one but two quotes from Nelson Mandela this week that I feel remind us of our individual power and our responsibility.
One of the most difficult things is not to change society, but to change yourself. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
I will continue to educate myself and my kids about how tolerance and empathy are what will set us free. Thanks for taking the time to be here today.