I went on a date recently with a beautiful dark-skinned woman who spoke with a striking English accent. She moved to this country 10 years ago from India and is now a US citizen. During our lunch, the conversation turned to one of the taboo topics we are instructed never to talk about on dates or social gatherings. Unfortunately for me, that topic was not sex, but rather politics . . . well, kinda. In truth, it was really about the breakdown of civility in America.
During our conversation, she shared with me an experience she had recently in one of my favorite towns in Pennsylvania. It occurred shortly after the election in November. While she was standing at a street corner waiting for the light to change, she noticed a group of young men approaching from her right. They were quite boisterous and were celebrating President Trump’s recent victory. As they got closer, they surrounded her and starting shouting at her. “You don’t belong here!” “Get out of our country!” “Go back to where you came from!”
She continued to look forward, not engaging them, waiting for the light to change. She shared with me that that was the longest light of her life.
As you can imagine, I was deeply saddened to hear what happened to her. And even though I was surprised, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Prejudice and such ugliness exists, and has always existed, in our country.
But this is not what made my heart absolutely ache with pain.
As she stood at that light and endured their onslaught of abuse for that never-ending minute, praying for the light to change, no one came to her aide. Not a single soul. Of all the people at that busy intersection, no man, woman or child took it upon themselves to say something, or stand by her side, or take her arm and walk with her, or diffuse the energy of the situation. No one.
All of the people at that intersection . . . all of us . . . let it happen.
Of course, none of us really knows how we will respond until we are in the situation ourselves, but I pray that when I am, I will act upon what I know and feel in my heart and take a stand for my fellow human.
We must never forget that those who suffer such ugliness and incivility are human, just like you and me. They are a friend, a mother, a brother, a child. They love like you and me. They cry like you and me. They feel joy like you and me. They fear like you and me. They suffer sadness like you and me. They bleed like you and me.
Never forget to act first and foremost from your heart, for that is where your highest truth and greatest courage resides. It is impossible for me to imagine that a heart would ever whisper to turn away in indifference.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Do not shrink in the face of your fear. Do not forget your humanness when confronted by incivility . . . and do not forget theirs. There are only two doors to choose from here – love and fear. Well, actually three. The third is indifference. But to choose that third door is to be a complicit conspirator of whatever is unfolding before you.
My Valentine wish for America is that we find our way through this cloud of incivility and arrive at a place where we can listen and respect those who do not agree with our current thinking. That we arrive at a place where we seek to understand, even if we choose not to adopt an opposing point of view. That we arrive at a place where we have the wisdom to understand that if we are “right” today, there is a good chance we will be “wrong” tomorrow.
We are, after all, human.
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