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Harsh reactions to DC incident diminish us all

January 27, 2019

I’m struggling to understand more than just the “facts” of what happened in D.C. last weekend, when at least three groups with (I suspect) widely differing perspectives on the “American dream,” and particularly in their sense of ownership — or at least access to that dream — spilled into each others’ lives in a way that now connects them whether or not they are aware.

I’ve watched some, though not all of the video, and as might even be the case with footage of a car accident, the perspective — the angle, the focus, distance — deeply affects my interpretation. As do my own beliefs — my worldview frames/limits what I see every bit as much as the locations of the camera lenses or the writers who have reported on the events.

Here’s some of what I believe and some of what I wonder:

It seems that there was an abundance of “ugliness” going around, with the common denominators of fear and anger (though in different measure). Protesters who have been pushed to the margins — pain and loss that needs to be heard and acknowledged, some lashing out at anyone they encounter. Seeking to overcome generations of fear, anger, and loss; imagine the weight (if you can; I cannot) of carrying a message for a whole people/culture/civilization. Words would fail ... have failed. (So then ancient rhythms, chants — rituals that seek to hold on to meaning when all else fails — begin to make sense).

A group of young men from mostly privileged, protected, insulated environs (at least as we imagine it; chances are things like anxiety, depression, physical or emotional abuse aren’t strangers to all of them). Now suddenly (I imagine it like a quickly rising stream that surrounds you before you even know it’s flooding) surrounded, alone (but together, at least some comfort in numbers). It’s hard to see on their faces, but hard not to imagine fear setting in.

Have you ever been surrounded by what felt like a mob, beset by danger all around? I haven’t and hope never to be. I think their youthfulness was only partly to blame for their response; few adults I know would be able to respond rationally in such a setting. Perhaps they felt pushed to the margins for one of the first times in their lives.

The responses since then — including my own initial response (what I would call a rush to judgment) — have often been vehement. And I’m as confident of the truth of this statement as any here: anger only begets anger. Until or unless we can step back, think for ourselves, talk meaningfully and with hope of bridging the gaps between us, anger will continue to burn hot and frequently out of control.

That’s what I believe happened; here’s what I wonder:

• What might yet happen if leaders at the school do some soul-searching of their own before turning their focus to “damage control” for the school’s reputation?

• For that matter, what if all of us do some soul-searching about the deeper issues that divide us and our reluctance to even acknowledge, let alone consider the feelings of those with different perspectives?

• How might I actually learn something new from this event, rather than feel confirmed in all my closely held beliefs? What would it take for you to join me in committing to that goal?

Take a step back, maybe, from throwing that stone or sharing that angry post. I’m 100 percent convinced that whether we claim the margins or the center for ourselves, we’ll all end up feeling marginalized, minimized, diminished. And we will be diminished, as will our hopes for whatever a better world and better society might look like.

Dana Sutton is a resident of Ona.

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