A noose unexpectedly appears on the football field of your beloved alma mater.
If you were the institution’s president, responsible for providing perspective that might help each member of your community consider this incident in the healthiest light, how would you begin your message?
I offer you this question (along with a photo of three of my grandchildren, who are each members of such a community) because I asked it of myself and found it a useful way to deepen my understanding of the person I aspire to be.
Here’s my answer. If the discovery of a noose on our campus does not help us, individually and as a community, grow our compassion for ourselves and for all of humankind, as well as deepen our commitment to who we are at our best, we will have missed the single most important gift of this act, an act that represents so much ignorance and so much horror in our nation’s history––and in the life of our nation today.
How easy, and on some level understandable, it would be for me to ask that we stand together in outrage at what many good-hearted people would term this heinous act of hate. How easy it would be to vilify those juveniles who are alleged to have committed this act. How easy it would be to ban them from our campus. And how mistaken, I feel.
It is my experience that a healthy response to this act does not include outrage, condemnation, banishment, blame, as well as labels such as despicable, unforgivable, or even hateful. And the reason a healthy response does not include those reactions and labels is that all of them are the result of anger, and anger is the child of unmanaged fear.
None of those reactions is necessary for us to resist with all of our heart and soul all of the harm that this act represents. Nor are those reactions necessary for us to affirm with all of our heart and soul all the compassion and loving education that is required to heal from all the harm this act represents.
The only gift I have ever received from my unmanaged fear––the mother of anger in all its many forms––is learning how it has never led me directly to greater peace of mind. Nor greater pliancy. Nor greater resilience. Nor greater fluidity, greater love, and greater insight in addressing the essential considerations of my life, and the life of this institution we cherish.
On the other hand, freeing the pain and fear that fuels my anger allows me to embrace whatever comes my way with greater ease and understanding, greater kindness. This is especially useful when the issue at hand is as incendiary as a noose on campus.
I do, in fact, ask us to stand together.
I ask us to stand together in a spirit of solidarity that recognizes that any act, any thought, that threatens the dignity and well-being of a single person threatens the dignity and well-being of everyone.
I ask us to examine how our attitudes, our beliefs, our actions, can and do harm. Few perceptions are more injurious, for instance, than the sense of otherness that comes from feeling superior or inferior to another.
I ask us to consider ways we, as a community, can shed wholesome light on the incalculable harm ignorance causes. And from this may we ever increase our sensitivity to the price of not paying attention to the choices we make, why we make them, and the impact of those choices on ourselves and others.
I ask us to be active in making this community a place where those of strongly differing views who are willing can take action to establish something much more valuable than agreement––mutual understanding.
And finally, I ask us to stand together in a spirit of commitment to what just may be life’s most important and challenging endeavor: bringing all the love we can to here and now.