In the wake of the Dallas police shootings, I was deeply impacted by the raw emotion displayed on news channels by individuals personally affected by it, particularly the Dallas trauma surgeon, Dr. Brian Williams. He struggled to contain his conflicted emotions as he expressed his heartbreak over the deaths of the fallen men in blue, and went on to proclaim both his respect and his fear of the police as a black man. The doctor’s eyes darted back and forth, revealing his pain and inner turmoil, as images of his failed attempts to save the officers played in his mind. During this heartfelt attempt to connect with his fellow Americans, he spoke with candor and intensity about how we can no longer afford to sweep the topic of race relationships under the rug.
“I understand the anger and the frustration and the mistrust of law enforcement. But they are not the problem,” said Dr. Williams. “The problem is the lack of open discussions about the impact of race relations in this country. We have to come together and end all this.”
Dr. Williams hinted at a lifetime of memories and conditionings regarding racial bias that at times intrudes upon the present and that often manifests viscerally when he is out in public, not wearing his white coat. This new experience had “changed” him. It was “a turning point” for him, he said. As for me, a person who habitually looks for the silver lining in all tragedy, I hope this will also be a turning point for our nation. I believe that it could be the beginning of a very long and productive conversation among lawmakers, peacekeepers, and citizens of all colors and creeds.
The Dallas protest itself had been intended to provide a safe atmosphere in which to grieve, process, and gain understanding of not only the events of the past week but of many more incidents in which people of color have died senselessly. The individuals responsible for planning this event, and its many participants, were clearly following the urgings of their hearts to find higher ground. They, like Dr. Williams, responded to an inner knowing that coming together with a sense of good will and espousing a loving and divine presence is what brings positive change — not brandishing a closed angry heart with that accompanying lynch mentality that always manages to drive people further apart from each other, further into their ideologies, and further from any chance at resolution.
Think about your own past. Whenever something devastating or tragic happens, you seek safety and the company of those who can understand the depths of your despair. Whose company do you prefer? The friend who continues to fan the flames of anger and keep you so riled up that you can’t rest or sleep and you get sick from the continuous flushing of adrenalin through your system? Or do you prefer the person who listens and empathizes, feeds you soup, and helps you find the silver lining? Which person is going to be most helpful as you plan your life from there?
When the ground suddenly shifts beneath our feet, we find comfort in the supportive presence of others. Living on the Texas gulf coast in hurricane territory, I have witnessed this numerous times. People are exceptionally friendly and helpful to each other as they prepare for the coming storm. During the great evacuation of Hurricane Rita in 2005, I was taken aback by the politeness, patience, and generosity of my fellow Texans as we drove quietly in a slow, long procession for ten hours. Although there were a few who honked their horns and bullied their way ahead, most maintained a spirit of camaraderie. We were all in it together with no thought of race, religion, or station in life. Despite the fact that life as we knew it had essentially stopped, being trucks could certainly not make deliveries and all businesses had closed down, we remained calm and collected. Though exhausted from the drive, I felt happy and at peace among my brethren. Connected.
I believe we are all unconsciously seeking Connection with a big C, but most of the time we seek it selectively through our associations with established friends, families, and work associates. We look to cliques, interest groups, and ideologies to create boundaries that help us make sense of our lives and feel safer, while causing us to feel less empathy and less connected to the world as a whole. From this viewpoint, we are more likely to find and accentuate our differences, to point out how right we are and how wrong they are.
In times of crisis, our need for connection takes on a greater sense of urgency, and we relax those boundaries. There is something about tragedy that awakens a knowing deep down inside us and speaks to us from our depths, reminding our intellects of that which we already know intuitively. Perhaps it is because in our vulnerable state, we can acknowledge that we lack the power to control outcomes and we fall into a state of Surrender. We give up our resistance to outer conditions, and we are more likely to join together with others in a childlike spirit of oneness, openness, and mutual acceptance. This way, through Connection, we can more fully sense a supportive presence down in the deepest parts of ourselves, and we sense it in others as well. When we resonate with this aspect of ourselves, others who are going through the same experience sense it in us, too. Even if we don’t know how to put it into words, we know that we are all brethren, we are all sparks of the divine, and we are all connected. We sense that the best way to get through the turmoil is with each other.
Let’s keep the conversation going.