By Craig Hardegree | 

Yes, we are a country divided. And we will not long endure if we stubbornly and pridefully continue hardening our hearts to those who are different and refusing to make any attempt to see the world through the eyes of others. As long as we stay safely and comfortably on “our side” and view things only from the perspective of our side and adopt the battle cries of our side and repeat the clichés of our side and express outrage over the death of one on our side while being flippant and uncaring about a death on the other side, we are going to continue drifting apart until this great country collapses.

Addressing racial tensions and the debate over slavery almost three years before he became president, Lincoln famously quoted the words of Jesus, “A house divided cannot stand.” A month after he was sworn-in, the Civil War began.

Yesterday, President Obama spoke from the White House on the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge:

“We have our divisions, and they are not new. Around the clock news cycles and social media sometimes amplify these divisions. And I know that we are about to enter a couple of weeks of conventions where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual.

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And that is why it is so important that everyone, regardless of race or political party, or profession; regardless of what organization you are a part of; everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further.

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We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts. All of us. …

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Only we can prove through words and through deeds that we will not be divided. And we’re going to have to keep on doing it, again and again and again. That’s how this country gets united, that’s how we bring people of good will together.

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Only we can prove that we have the grace and the character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence. To reduce fear and mistrust within the American family. To set an example for our children.

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That’s who we are, and that’s who we always have the capacity to be. And that’s the best way for us to honor the sacrifice of the brave police officers who were taken from us this morning.”

In response, Trump tweeted:

“President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn’t have a clue. Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”

Last week President Obama spoke in Dallas at the memorial service for the five slain police officers. Critiqued objectively with an agenda-free open heart, it was a magnificent speech, like no other we have heard in modern times. No other president since Lincoln has so directly spoken to racial tensions in such a honest and open way, imploring both sides to understand and acknowledge the perspective of the other side.

Incredibly and inexplicably, he was accused of being “divisive.”

The organizing framework of his speech was “things we know to be true.” His theme was “having an open heart” to act on those truths.

We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety.

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And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police — even if they don’t act on it themselves — they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote.

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We also know that centuries of racial discrimination — of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the end of lawful segregation. They didn’t just stop when Dr. King made a speech, or the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were signed.

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Race relations have improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve that progress.

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But we know, America, we know — that bias remains. …

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When African Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment; when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently — so that if you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer sentences, more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise their kids right and have “the talk” about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — “yes, sir,” “no, sir” — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door…still fear that kid’s being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy — when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid. We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of “political correctness” or “reverse racism.” …

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I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

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That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart! Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.

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Because with an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes. …”

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~ President Barack Obama, July 12, 2016, Dallas Memorial for Police Officers.

The day before President Obama’s speech, I posted this on Facebook:

“People if we don’t all drop our pride and defensiveness of our own identity groups, and start trying to truly see the world through the eyes of the people who are different from us, this whole country’s going to erupt.” ~ Craig Hardegree, July 11, 2016

Seeing the world through the eyes of others.

Putting yourself in the shoes of others.

Loving others as you love yourself.

Empathy.

We all subscribe to it; we all give lip service to it — it is the most fundamental concept of all religions and the foundational basis for non-religious ethics.

It is the key to bridging the racial divide.

But empathy is slow to come.

Because it’s arrested by fear.

And detained by pride.

I’m white as a saltine cracker. I was reared in a fundamentalist evangelical church and still consider myself to be an evangelical Christian. My older brother whom I love dearly has spent 30 years as a sheriff’s deputy.

If I just went with the flow, followed the crowd, did what’s easy, stayed with what’s comfortable, stuck with what would keep me in the good graces of my own identity groups and not subject me to scorn…my default perspective would be white, evangelical, law & order.

But I understand the perspective of people of color; I “get” Black Lives Matter.

Not because I was born with a dual perspective; not because I prayed and God gave me a heart of understanding.

But because I made the effort; I tried.

I opened my heart and opened my mind and I tried.

I tried to see the world from the perspective of people who are different from me. I tried to view events through the eyes of people of color. I made a conscious effort to put myself in the shoes of black males who find themselves interacting with white police officers. I worked hard in an uncomfortable mental zone to view protests and the actions of protesters through the perspective of people of color.

Empathy.

It’s not easy.

It requires inward reflection; relinquishment of pride; re-examination of everything you think you know about others.

It asks you to admit discrimination exists; acknowledge white privilege; own past grievances rather than deny them.

But the rewards for opening your heart are great.

It will replace your fear with love; your knee-jerk defense of whiteness with genuine compassion for others.

It will make you realize that giving place to others doesn’t take away from you; it adds to you.

It will change your heart of stone to a softened heart of love.

End-Post-Craig-Hardegree

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