Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones? All of them? It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate. In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides. I spoke to much of this in a prior post, but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:
- We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
- We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
- We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)
Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important. For example:
- “Feed the children” ≠ Don’t feed the adults.
- “Save the Whales” ≠ Sacrifice the Seals
- “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
- “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
- “Pray for Paris” ≠ We don’t care about Rome.
- “Travel Alberta” ≠ There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.
These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause. They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada. That wouldn’t even enter our minds.
And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”
Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin. It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.” Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.
And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context. With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people. This is not because we are insensitive or stupid. It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out. While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives. It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.
Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not. Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas. And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs. And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign. And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides. Really?? To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.
Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:
From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue. I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide. And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story. How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?
I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus. As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both. There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion. Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason. We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern. It’s a triage of sorts …
And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive. It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation. And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other. I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal. And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.
Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.
Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here. I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo. And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’, the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others. Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.
And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter. Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective. And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right. Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.
Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen
P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂