How Do We Respond?

How Do We Respond?

Few can recall a more tense season than the one we are living right now. 

The deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are described with the adjectives, disturbing, heartbreaking, senseless, and indefensible. No matter the crimes they were suspected of – or past crimes they may have committed – the events leading up to their deaths were shocking and unjustified. In this, we all agree.

  • How to respond to differing opinions regarding how best to voice our grief and outrage is where people across our community disagree.
  • How we respond when encountering divergent opinions will either build a bridge between people or deepen the divide that clearly exists.

Nobody I know wants to contribute to the divide. We all sincerely desire to contribute to a Christ-honoring unity. You, like me, may have experienced frustration when a well-intentioned response only escalated the tension and exasperated the division. 

Earlier this week I listened to a “relationship coach” who offered a few areas to avoid when encountering thoughts, attitudes, and opinions we do not understand. I was unsuccessful in identifying the speaker. Suffice it to say, the following did not originate with me. I was challenged by the suggestions and think you will be too.

4 Things to Avoid

Here are four things to avoid when dealing with challenging subjects. 

  • First, don’t diminish the personal experiences of another person. Last week a pastor described how he regularly witnesses people step out of his way when walking in a mall or along a sidewalk. He interprets that as fear in the minds and hearts of others. I could have said, “You may be jumping to an erroneous conclusion!” Instead, I tried to listen and empathize. I asked myself what conclusion I would draw if I had such experiences. We close the door to understanding when we diminish the personal experiences of others.
  • Second, don’t deflect the focus. When someone speaks of racism or discrimination, my saying “That may be true but I have black friends!” or “Well, I get along with minorities!” does not help. Christians should be friendly! We should get along with all people! Surely we want to understand the perspective of millions of black Americans who have experienced racism and discrimination! Don’t deflect the focus when people share their thoughts and feelings. 
  • Third, don’t distract from the real issue. People throughout our communities – people of every ethnicity – are calling for Americans to unite in a concentrated effort to overcome the sin of racism. We distract from the real issue when we say, “Yes, but look at those rioters and looters!” The vast majority of angry Americans are not rioting or looting! When people try to address racism we distract from the issue by directing the conversation toward something else. 
  • Finally, don’t distort genuine experiences. All of us have felt the sting of rejection. I certainly have. However, I should not exaggerate that experience by saying, “I, too, have faced prejudice and racism.” When a black person tells me they are often followed by clerks while shopping I diminish their experience by saying, “White people are treated that way, too.” Distorting genuine experiences of myself of others is not helpful. 

Reflect over these valuable recommendations. Ask yourself if you are regularly and purposefully building bridges or deepening the divide. I pray that this season of intense conflict gives way to a glorious season of unity, harmony, understanding, and appreciation of others.