There’s often been a lack of empathy when it comes to humans.
We get so focused on ourselves and how we feel, we don’t take the time to consider what other people may think, let alone feel. What have they endured? What is their story? Perhaps the biggest question to ask: Why are they doing it?
There’s a line from “To Kill A Mockingbird” that has been running around in my head the last year or so. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
The line from Harper Lee’s classic novel has evolved over the years and has numerous variations today. The basis of which is to say “Before you criticize or judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Legendary comedian Steve Martin put his own twist on it by adding, “That way when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”
On top of empathy, what we need is laughter.
Whichever side you fall on the protests and how it makes you feel, consider the other side for a change. Listen. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s the point. Protests aren’t meant to make people feel warm and fuzzy. They’re meant to start a conversation, to highlight what those people feel is an injustice or wrong. If it makes one uncomfortable, imagine how it makes the other person feel to take the actions that they do.
It is perfectly legitimate to feel disrespected when something we hold so dear isn't being treated the way we would treat it. The fact we all have different backgrounds and experiences makes that inevitable. When that happens there’s a choice: Assume that they do it because they are a bad person who has no respect for the things I do, or ask and listen to why someone feels the way they do, and what in their experience has caused such a different reaction.
Far too often that doesn’t happen. Instead we get emotional and defensive. “I’m under attack. My beliefs are challenged. I’m not wrong.” On top of a severe lack of empathy, we’re also an incredibly selfish species. No matter the situation, we find a way to make it about ourselves.
“Look at the locker room,” Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall told the media on Monday. “We all come from different backgrounds, cities, upbringings, morals, values, but nobody here bashes anybody for their beliefs. We had a conversation in here last week about whether God is real or not, and some guys differed on opinions. But at the end of the day, we still came together, we still laughed and we still hung out and still were cool. Just because he might believe this and I might believe this, it doesn’t mean we can’t coexist and still be friends.”
Added Colorado Rockies centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, as he told Rox Pile and other media members earlier this week:
“As a person with my own thoughts and feelings, I need to understand that no matter what side of the line I fall on that, statistically speaking, about half the country might feel differently than I feel. For me to be arrogant enough to say that the other half of the country is wrong or say that I am definitely right, I think is the wrong thing to do.
“That being said, that’s probably all I’ll say. I’m proud to be an American and I’m also thankful to have the First Amendment. I can see it going both ways. I have my opinions but that doesn’t mean that they’re right. I’ll probably just keep those to myself.”
The intersection of society and sports goes back over 100 years. If you want to get an idea of our country at a particular moment in time, look at sports. It may not always be an image we’re proud of, but it’s honest and true. If you want to get an even better understanding, put yourself in the place of an athlete.
In this instance, let’s do so through the eyes of Jackie Robinson. He’s one of the greatest athletes this country has ever seen. He’s one of the greatest Americans this country has ever seen.
“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
Forty-five years later, what Robinson said still rings true. Whether you want to believe or hear it doesn’t change reality. If you feel challenged, that’s the point. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s the point. Now imagine what it must have felt like for Robinson. Take a second to walk in the shoes of an amazing athlete but an even better American. You might be surprised at the journey you take and what you uncover.