In the political arena opinions are rampant. Facts are often scarce, and statistics are often tweaked until reduced to little more than useless gibberish designed to support an otherwise unsupportable argument.
This is true in every town, every state, and every country. It’s a human trait, not a failing of the left or the right, the north or the south, the American or National league. It’s all of us. It’s you. It’s me.
We would all be wise to remain cautious and curious, lest we find ourselves saying and doing things that are senseless and counter-productive. Much like first impressions, writing, saying, and doing things that are idiotic can make a long-lasting impression that can be hard to shake off.
Take any day in any town in North America and you can find clear examples of this process. There is an action, somebody reacts to that action, then somebody else over-reacts to the action. Before you know it you’ve got chaos.
More often than not that chaos is designed to vent anger, but it educates no one and solves nothing. The over-reaction makes things worse, not better.
This past week a woman I know spoke out about the ruckus occurring in Ferguson, Missouri. In a nutshell, what we know is this: A man was shot by police. The man died. An investigation is underway.
That is all we know. That’s all I know, that’s all you know, and that’s all the woman I was talking with knew.
Yet she made the following statement that in her mind put the entire event into a perspective she was comfortable with: “Jim Crow is alive and well in America.”
Action, a man was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Reaction, crowds gather to show their displeasure with the shooting. Over-reaction, crowds riot and people who know almost nothing about the circumstances of the event announce that Jim Crow is running the show.
The action is unfortunate, but not one of us knows if it was warranted or not. None of us actually knows what happened in detail, hence, it is rash and unreasonable to make judgments about an event we do not as of yet understand.
In the social and political sense, as these events unfold and idiotic statements like the one about Jim Crow are thrown about, I consider myself to be very lucky. Born of a southern father and a New Englander mother, I have spent a considerable amount of time in and around small southern towns, as well as in the very white suburbs of New England, and the highly diverse setting of New York City. I am a member of the last generation to have lived with Jim Crow in place, and I am included in a smaller subset of people who saw it applied in daily life, first-hand.
Admittedly, I was on the white side of the color line. That was to my benefit, certainly. But it doesn’t take a genius to know the difference between the United States in 2014 and the United States in 1964, prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It was my good fortune to live full time in a small southern town in the 1970s, well after the passage of and well before the full implementation of that Civil Rights Act.
Knowing all that, a conversation needs to happen in our country. A serious conversation held by level-headed men and women who know the difference between a random collection of overly aggressive individuals, and an institutionalized system of degradation and terror that kept a significant portion of our population in a permanent state of poverty. Under Jim Crow some of my neighbors would not be allowed to live in the neighborhood I do. Under Jim Crow the man who serves as the mayor of my town would not be allowed to enter a restaurant through the front door. And he would be taking his life in his hands to be found in the white section of town after dark.
That was Jim Crow. It was ugly, it was brutal, it involved the systematic dehumanization of a portion of our population based on nothing more than skin tone. It was wrong on a scale that cannot even be imagined today by people who didn’t see it first hand. There is no modern equivalent of Jim Crow. To suggest otherwise is to admit to an ignorance of our historic and current social order that is almost unfathomable.
Politics is not about government, it is about how we deal with one another to create change and manage our affairs. The issues we face will change, but our reactions as humans will remain relatively constant unless we— unless you — do something to change course. If we persist in the action, reaction, over-reaction model, we will eventually destroy ourselves. That is what always happens when this model is applied to social systems.
If we are to make progress as a people, as a society, even as an individual attempting to create a positive change, we must change our model to one that more closely follows a new path. Action, analysis, review, planning, implementation, evaluation, and revision. There are more steps with this mode, and this method requires greater thought, greater self-control, and much improved communication – but it avoids chaos and destruction in favor of productive change.
That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Let’s give it a try. Let’s become leaders in our communities. Let’s create a positive change. It’s time.