Persistent tragedy and obstinate minds


North Texas Light Brigade members hold up a sign at a vigil conducted by the Dallas Police Association for five police officers killed during protests last week. NATHAN HUNSINGER / THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

In the midst of this national discussion following the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five police officers in Dallas, there was one suggestion made that stuck with me. I saw a call on social media for police officers to be held responsible for weeding out “bad cops.” What truly lingered with me regarding this point is that it was very similar to calls I had heard earlier this year regarding Muslim Americans. In particular, I heard some saying that Muslims should be held responsible for informing the authorities of individuals who are likely to be radicalized. It seemed to me that most people would support one idea or the other rather than both or neither. And so it occurred to me that in general, people identify not with universal principles, but with discrete movements.

The recent tragedies our nation has faced have been complex and nuanced, revealing multifaceted and deeply pervasive societal issues instead of a simple two-sided conflict. But rather than responding in a manner that is similarly nuanced, many people in the United States have shown that tragedy hardens the beliefs they have always held. People twist the narrative to fit their beliefs. And it’s incredibly frustrating.

We make the fatal error of viewing everyone else within our own paradigms. I watch as people toss their own views at each other and simultaneously put up barriers to everyone else’s. People believe that if only everyone else thought the way they did, everything would be alright.

If things continue the way they are, no matter who and how many people kill or are killed – blacks, whites, police officers, Muslims, etc. – nothing will ever change. These tragedies cause us to become angrier and pursue our individual and opposing goals even more willfully. We are the same before and after, only we are in more pain and our conflicts are more tense.

I want to return to why my analogy with the police officers and Muslims really struck me. I realized how strange it was when I looked at the rhetoric of people speaking on behalf of various movements and I simply switched one movement’s words for that of another – in this case, switching Muslims and police officers. It was as if I could take people from one movement and switch them to a completely different and sometimes somewhat contradictory movement simply by changing one word but leaving the general sentiment intact. This is an exercise that I urge all of you to try. Look at the rhetoric of any movement that you support and try replacing a key word with that from another movement. Consider the changes very carefully. What do they say about both movements? What do they say about you?

I have tried very hard to avoid specific political points and views in this column; this isn’t a column for or against any group in particular. Rather, this is a plea to all Americans and perhaps even all humans to be more critical of their own ideas. Don’t think for a second that this column is a rebuke against whomever you disagree with, because it is equally a rebuke against yourself. Do not try to simply impose your beliefs on others. Make a concerted effort to truly understand the beliefs of yourself and, most importantly, of others – including those with whom you disagree. And that’s what we truly need before we can take meaningful steps to reduce violence – understanding, not of your ideas or of someone else’s ideas, but of everyone’s ideas.