Let’s stop tearing down community and build something we can all be proud of

By Terri Lee Freeman

In early October the National Civil Rights Museum, along with Bridges and Facing History and Ourselves, launched a campaign to encourage empathy.

Our Open Up. Spark a Connection. campaign was created to get people to do just what it says, open up!  

In the face of our national discourse, or possibly the lack thereof, being empathetic and recognizing the “others” as ourselves couldn’t be more important. 

Our society is quickly becoming toxic, poisoning the minds of its citizenry based on ideology, race, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexual orientation. 

We seem to easily find ways to divide ourselves from our humanness. We’ve gone beyond lacking civility to lacking empathy – the ability to identify with the feelings, attitudes and thoughts of another. Nowhere in this definition does it suggest that you have to agree to actually empathize.

I fear we may have crossed the line from simply needing to exercise empathy to acknowledging our humanity. As members of the human race, we each have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

No one has the right to terrorize people based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, diverging viewpoints, or political party.   

The depths of hate that we’ve seen in the past week should sicken us. I’m sickened by the idea that people are “hunting” racial and ethnic minorities, most recently with two African Americans killed in Kentucky and the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I’m sickened by individuals who try to murder, by bombing, several leaders whose political ideologies differ from theirs. It demonstrates the depths to which we have sunk. 

No, I don’t have my head in the sand. I recognize that bullying and terrorism have been used throughout the ages to silence those who are “different.” It wasn’t a legitimate tactic then, or now. Will we ever learn from our past mistakes?

I’m weary of the constant onslaught of hate born out of ignorance and fear. And I’m scared to death of the society that we are creating and leaving to our youngest citizens. What are we teaching our young ones about how to handle difference?

How can we expect people to empathize if they can’t even see others as humans? 

We’ve been digging this hole for centuries. It’s time for us to stop digging and start filling these treacherous holes.

Fifty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it feels as though we’ve learned nothing! Violence solves nothing! Hate and hyperbolic rhetoric will not make our country great. What it does is continue to create deeper fissures and further division. 

So, what can we do? There is no shortage of opportunities to learn more about ourselves and the communities we call home. 

Instead of creating online communities, how about we supplement our social media with true communities that encourage face-to-face interaction with people who are, well…human...with different likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. 

When Bridges, Facing History and Ourselves and the National Civil Rights Museum decided to create this campaign to encourage empathy, we were responding to devastating events in our country that took innocent lives because of hate, bias and ignorance.

We knew we could all be better if we just took some time to #openup. Each of us needs to reflect and think of how our words or actions affect our status quo. 

Let’s stop tearing down community and take the time and effort necessary to build something we can all be proud of!  Let’s #SparkAConnection!