30 years ago, as a freshman in college, I saw Paul Wellstone announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate on the campus of Macalester College in St. Paul. I was inspired by the energy he used to put his compassion into action. Today as I see the Twin Cities experiencing such a passionate unrest, I wonder how our society can use compassion to address the ills caused by a lack of compassion.
It is easy to categorize the civil unrest, brought about the murder of George Floyd, in familiar ways. However, this has many layers to it that are creating such a huge reaction by so many people. Let’s start seeing how this is no different than any other day. For starters, brutal things like this happen ever single day all around the world at the hands of authorities. Racism exists everywhere and is a constant presence in the lives of minorities everywhere in the world. Its not the first time a black man has died at the hand’s of a white police officer and it was caught on tape. Its not the first time there has been civil unrest in the streets of American cities.
Then why did this episode rise to the top in such a big way? Its the pace of what transpired. What we see is an event that went on for such a long time and other police officers who had ample time to think the situation through and take corrective action. What that tells people is that those police officers clearly have depraved hearts. This is also a legal term. Any death that is caused by a depraved heart is third degree murder. It doesn’t have to be premeditated or even intentional.
But this goes even further than that. Yes, African Americans live through micro aggressions regularly. Little things that just poke you and knock you off balance. I’ve experienced that living as a minority in different countries. Every time it rears its head, it hurts. It doesn’t even have to be racial. There is a strong culture across humanity of not even noticing when we habitually treat some class of people with indifference. So this police action was an assault on everybody. The depravity in the officers’ hearts does not just affect people with dark skin. Even though their prejudices may make it more likely that this depravity is evident in their actions with minorities, their indifferent behavior has another effect. It shows us all how little concepts like love and compassion are missing in our society. We shouldn’t just be angry because of the fact that racism lead to a loss of an African American life. We should also be concerned that we live in a society where teaching, promoting and celebrating compassion takes a back seat to so many other things.
George Floyd wasn’t just another black man. He was a man. That should be enough right there. Race was a big part of this, but it doesn’t have to be in order for it to cause alarm to everybody. When we reject a culture of indifference, not just by others, but within ourselves, we find love. Through love, we can see ourselves our children and parents and friends in George Floyd. How does that feel when you envision someone you love in George’s place. Racism is a big problem in America, but its ultimately just a different variety of the same root cause that leads to all of our social ills. The fact that anybody tolerated slavery shows how pervasive the indifference was, not just in the slave owners. Eventually we went to war over it. Thank God that after a hundred years, people in power were finally finally willing demanded change through a civil war. We don’t need to take this that far, but when will we demand decisive action from our politicians. And will we just tolerate a society that keeps mistreating people through indifference.
A depraved heart is the driving factor behind homelessness, a lack of universal health care, cyber bullying in schools, personal political attacks… A depraved heart does not arise in an environment where we teach and practice expressions of love.
Why did this happen? Should we be scared for our country? I think a better question is: will we, individually, turn away and show indifference through our actions, or will we see this as possibly a beautiful turning point in the trajectory of our society? We celebrate the Boston Tea Party. Will we someday celebrate this time in history where we as humans decided to step out of our past habits and create a culture that places love first, above our value of power and money? Its ok to ruffle some feathers once in a while. Sometimes bringing about change means making people uncomfortable. We can be scared to step forward and that is uncomfortable for us. But when we see George Floyd not simply as a victim of racism, but more importantly see him as just another man, then we might be able affect an amazing cultural change. Just imagine if our country pursues the goal of making every person feel loved with the same equal exuberance as our pursuit of space exploration or olympic golds. Space travel and olympic golds are worthy goals, but where is the fire behind our country’s pursuit for abundant love in its people. The fire is in the streets, burning the cars and buildings . It just needs to be directed in a better way going forward. But this unrest shouldn’t be dismissed simply because it is, to a great degree, misguided. The people rioting are young and don’t know how to communicate in other ways (though they certainly have tried), but at least they feel the passion for change. Let’s celebrate and harness this passion to lift people up, out of a culture that breeds depraved hearts and into a culture of love and compassion.