I have always felt that the surest sign of maturity is to acknowledge another’s pain. You cannot, of course, realistically “feel” that pain, but, at the very least, when you try to comprehend someone else’s hurt, you begin to look beyond your self-interests and selfish motives.
Unfortunately, history offers a contrary example. At this moment, somewhere in our troubled world, someone (or some army) is violently retaliating for a real or imagined offense. The ensuing suffering will not be heard through the fog of war and violence or the clamor of rage and politics.
The first eventual child’s death will make little difference in the velocity of destruction, as we have seen too often since the first time an angry human being picked up a rock or a club.
Statistics Hide Individuals
Today, we can see the effects of our worst instincts in real time and high definition. We can even respond on social media, often baring our own hate and ugliness for all to see. We see, but do we really grasp what we are seeing? Does that witnessing seep and settle into the places in our hearts and minds that move us emotionally? Does it prod us to action? Or, does it compel us to change the channel, so to speak, and look away?
For example, currently there are thousands of migrants living in squalid, unhealthy conditions in Greece and elsewhere. The media usually show these refugees huddled in front of tents or queued in front of what are horribly referred to as “feeding stations.” These displaced refugees roam nationless at a rate rarely seen on our planet: around 71 million as of January 2019, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Yet, I cannot give you the name of even one of these unfortunates. I see the masses, but I do not see the person. How do we begin to comprehend their misery without the story of a single individual?
Black Lives Matter
Earlier this month, in our placid little Midwestern town, we marched in support of Black Lives Matter and to bring attention to George Floyd, among so many other victims of police brutality.
We were 500 strong, an amazing 10 percent of the village’s population. We heard from several speakers, including a biracial woman who grew up here and who recounted the taunts and insensitive slings and arrows she has had to face in our community.
During the rally and march, I carried a sign with a single name written on it: Breonna Taylor. Breonna, 26, was an African American EMT in Louisville. She was asleep when police officers burst into her apartment with a “no-knock warrant” and shot her dead – another casualty in a long line of senseless murders-by-policemen.
Until three weeks ago, when George Floyd was murdered by a gang, aka the Minneapolis Police Department, and when the entire nation was repulsed by the ensuing video showing Floyd’s last agonizing breaths, Breonna and too many others were simply indistinct men and women. They were statistics that, for many of us not personally affected, lacked a human context.
Names, Faces, and Stories
Admittedly, there have been well-publicized names of victims, young black men like Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald and black women like Atatiana Jefferson and Sandra Bland. We have also learned the names of Syrian refugees, such as Aylan Kurdi, the three-old Syrian boy found face-down on a Turkish beach. His photo haunted the world through a few news cycles, but the war raged on, and to this day, refugees from that broken country continue to die fleeing a murderous dictator and an apocalypse not of their own making.
In those instances, activists tried to wake up a disinterested world that, if it had bothered, could have, if nothing else, added up the dismal numbers. Cops killed over 1,000 people of all colors in 2019, but 54 percent of them were identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander individuals. The numbers are even more staggering when looking at just Black people: they made up 24 percent of those killed despite being only 13 percent of the population.
But all of that has changed. A nation has been roused from its slumber, or, more precisely, dragged out of its bed way past its morning wake-up call. The tipping point? Names, faces, and the stories behind those faces.
“Say His Name!” we shouted as we marched around the town square in my hometown. “George Floyd!” we answered. “Say her name!” I yelled. “Breonna Taylor!”
In shouting their names, remembering their faces, and recounting their stories, we were not only acknowledging another’s pain but also igniting the best parts of what it means to be human: compassion and love for the other. And, truly, why else are we here?Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.