I can hear the wind chimes that are attached to the eaves of my garage ringing. Usually that means the wind has shifted to the southwest bringing a change of weather with it.
I wish the wind would shift in America and bring with it an enhanced sense of community. It just seems like we are in such an angry place right now, even as many key economic indicators are on the rise; some at historic levels. More people are working, incomes are increasing while poverty is dropping. But, that good news is overshadowed by the sour mood prevalent across the land.
There is so much hate. Here are some examples of what I mean: hate crimes against Muslims have increased dramatically since 2015; security officials used guard dogs to quell protests in North Dakota over an oil pipeline; water is withheld from a Milwaukee prisoner who dies of thirst; and then there are the multiple shootings we’ve witnessed this year. We can’t lose sight of the nearly 40,000 incidents of gun violence in the United States year to date, of which over one-quarter resulted in fatalities.
I’m sure you are wondering what all these incidents have in common. In my mind, they point to a lack of respect for the dignity of a human being. They say we have lost sight of our sense of community and humanity; that we have arrived at a place where it is acceptable to treat our neighbors with disdain and hate them because they are different from us.
But we should not be surprised. We can pretend we are, but we should not be. After all, these tendencies have been part of our culture since the beginning of our American experiment. Our ancestors captured Africans and enslaved, beat, and abused them for economic gain. They attempted genocide of Native Americans, even trying to wipe out the American buffalo in the process in order to access land and the riches that would bring. We’ve had Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, opposition to school & housing integration, mortgage redlining, exclusionary zoning and racial and economic segregation that goes on to this day.
So the ability to treat other humans as objects is not new to us. It was there before this presidential campaign. Perhaps, the level of vitriol in this election season has simply turned up the lights, allowing us to see the darkest parts of who we are and who we have been. I am not saying that we are a “bad” people. What I am saying is that until we accept both the good and the bad of who we are, we cannot begin to heal. The same light that shines on our demons can also be used to shine on our angels.
All social change begins with a personal change of heart. And so, if we want America to embrace community, to honor diversity and to respect each individual, we have to make sure it begins with our individual actions.
Here is a three step exercise to help begin a transformation of heart.
1. Spend 10 minutes reflecting on the idea that you are God’s beloved. What does that mean to you? If you are God’s beloved – how should you treat yourself?
2. Spend another 10 minutes reflecting on the idea that your family members and friends are also God’s beloved. Knowing that – how should you treat them; especially in those moments when they just might be getting on your nerves.
3. OK, here’s the tough one. Think of the person you may despise the most. Spend 10 minutes with the idea that they too are God’s beloved. While you may not get to the point where you love them, or even like them – consider how you can see them in a new light and how you can think of them differently knowing that God loves you and God loves them in exactly the same way.
Do this three step exercise every day, keeping real people in the front of your mind for each one. And then who knows, after some time maybe you will start to hear the wind chimes ring in a new change of heart.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.