From Enmity to Empathy: Hate, Hugs, and Hope in Ferguson

I'm sorry.  


Say it with me.  I'm sorry.  That wasn't hard, was it?  Sure, it takes some effort sometimes.  There are times when we have to swallow our pride and admit we were wrong.  It's never easy to admit that for whatever reason we said or did something that did more harm than good.  We as human beings don't set out our day intending to do or say things that might offend others or that might unintentionally harm them.  Yet on a daily basis that is what happens.  We'll inevitably say or do something that didn't get the anticipated result and when that happens we have to admit that the fault lies with us.  


In addition, we also apologize for things we have no control over.  We do it as a way to empathize with those close to us.  Your friend confides in you that they aren't happy in their current relationship.  You say you're sorry.  Your parent tells you that they aren't feeling well and won't be able to visit.  You say you're sorry.  Your child tells you that he or she doesn't like their new teacher.  You say you're sorry.  Your spouse tells you they will be working late and won't be able to join you for dinner.  You say you're sorry.  


It's a basic human response.  


And yet, as recent events with Mike Brown and Robin Williams have shown us, Conservatives today lack a basic empathy that makes them seem inhumane.  At a time when we as a nation should be coming together, time and time again we drift further apart.  Even now, events like a celebrity death or protests against police brutality have become massively polarizing.  For every person today that empathizes with someone, it seems like clockwork that there will immediately be someone who feels no empathy whatsoever and even will choose to attack this person for feeling empathy in the first place.  It would seem that we have become a nation incapable of feeling basic human emotion.  


The examples of this lack of empathy with Mike Brown are unfortunately numerous.  Fox News, as always, has been a prime offender.  From pondering if we have forgotten MLK's message to blaming Al Sharpton, to giving a platform for the inept police chief Tom Jackson on Hannity, the network has done a bang-up job in blaming nearly everyone for the current situation in Ferguson.  The person they haven't blamed?  Officer Darren Wilson, the man who gunned down and executed an unarmed eighteen-year-old kid in the middle of the street in broad daylight.  Instead of portraying the peaceful vigils in Ferguson, the nationwide peaceful protests in solidarity for Mike Brown, and the powerful viral images such as Howard University students standing with their hands up, Fox News has chosen to make the civil unrest in the town as its central and overt theme.  


As if the coverage of the events in Ferguson wasn't egregious enough, we've also seen a downright disgraceful portrayal of the death of Robin Williams.  At a time when they should have been praising Williams' comedic genius and his dedication to American troops serving overseas, Fox News began its tribute by showing a clip of a Halloween party rather than a scene of the film, Mrs. Doubtfire.  That auspicious start ended up foreshadowing the rest of the network's coverage while was highlighted by anchor Shep Smith calling Williams a "coward" for leaving behind a wife and three children.  


The problem with Fox News' complete and utter lack of empathy is that it is not unique to them.  It permeates the Conservative worldview and has gotten to the point where it is impacting good and decent people who don't share this distorted sense of reality.  Upon Williams' death, the usual suspects came forward:  Rush Limbaugh claimed Williams killed himself due to his "leftist world view" and it was announced the Westboro Baptist Church planned on protesting the small, private funeral because, well, they haven't had a chance to stroke their ego in a few weeks.  However, what we've seen now is that hatred has now boiled over into our daily lives and innocent people have been unnecessarily attacked.  Williams' own daughter, Zelda, recently quit social media because she had been the victim of vicious and venomous comments directed at her after she posted a moving tribute to her late father.  Somehow these people managed to be more disgusting than the Westboro Baptist Church.  


And that's hard to do.  


The problem with this complete lack of empathy, in addition to making you a total and complete asshole, is that it ultimately gets in your way to effectively resolve a situation.  What we've seen in Ferguson, Missouri represents this perfectly.  For four days, Police Chief Tom Jackson treated the people of Ferguson like a combative guerrilla army.  There was no dialogue between the protesters and the police.  Vigils were trampled.  Dogs were on leashes.  Policemen wore gas masks.  Tear gas was launched into backyards.  Blockades were set up.  The Ferguson Police Department was entirely unaware that the phrase "violence begets violence" is actually a thing and were shocked, absolutely shocked, that the citizens of Ferguson would be upset at the way they were being treated.  


Enter Ron Johnson.  


Ron Johnson is the captain of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.  He grew up in Ferguson and remarked that "this is my community."  On Thursday night, Johnson and his men took over control from the Ferguson police department.  Johnson called off the dogs, told his men to take off their gas masks, took down police blockades, and went out and engaged the protesters through both conversations and hugs.  The difference was night and day.  On Thursday evening, there were no arrests and by the end of the night people were describing the atmosphere as being "jovial."  It was a far cry from where the town had been the previous four nights.


The problems in the world today represent a wide range of issues.  There are complex problems with complex solutions.  There are also complex problems with simple solutions that just aren't getting done for a variety of reasons.  In order for solutions to come about, people need to be able to work together.  For that to happen people need to understand one another and where they are coming from.  Any kind of discussions to resolve these issues are predicated on a having a certain level of empathy between participants.  If that empathy doesn't exist, if one side is simply incapable of putting themselves in someone else's shoes, that is when we end up with uncompromising politicians who see no reason to help anyone other than themselves.  


Conservative America won't suddenly become empathetic over night.  In fact, it most likely will get worse before it gets better.  The more society progresses (and it always does), the more resistant Conservatives will be to change.  They won't only resist, they will be ugly about it.  They'll disgrace those that show empathy.  They'll consider it a sign of weakness (*cough* President Obama *cough*) and will be sure to pound their chest and claim that someone tougher, more manly, more stoic would be a better fit.  They'll continue to criticize those they disagree with, even in death.  They will spew hate and spew it with absolutely reckless abandon at anyone close to the person in question.  


But ultimately, they will lose.  


Love has always been stronger than hate.  Empathy is actually a good trait to have.  It's good to empathize with people as a way to connect with them.  It's okay to make mistakes.  It's okay to say you're sorry.  It's what makes you human.  In order to quell a group of protesters in a small Missouri suburb, you don't need riot gear, dogs, barricades, and tear gas.  What you need is a single man to talk with you, to listen to you, and to give you a hug when it's all over and tell you he understands where you're coming from.  


In other words, all you need is to be human.













Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.

Christine Byers Tweeted What? How Authorities Use the Press to Disseminate Their Narrative

News coverage of the Michael Brown shooting: headlines matter

News coverage of the Michael Brown shooting: headlines matter