Several years ago, I took a course with Douglas Noll who noted that everyone in a conflict is a victim, and every person in that conflict has six needs that must be met before the conflict can be resolved: vengeance, vindication, validation, need to be heard, need to create meaning and a need for safety (physical, emotional and spiritual).

This tidbit came rushing back to me as I listened to President Obama speak at the memorial service for the five slain Dallas police officers on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. In particular, the President pointed out that though it has been more than 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, tragedies are still occurring:

We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism.  To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts.  Surely we can see that, all of us.

The protestors need vengeance; to have punishment inflicted on those who allegedly committed the alleged wrong; The protestors need to be vindicated; to be proven right. They need to be validated; to be recognized as being justified in their grievances. And to obtain these three things, they need to be heard in a way that creates meaning for them in a safe place.

President Obama recognized how critical is this need to be heard:

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…. 

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, so that maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous — (applause) — and the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words and values and authority of his parents.  (Applause.) 

With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies.

With an open heart, those protesting for change will guard against reckless language going forward, look at the model set by the five officers we mourn today, acknowledge the progress brought about by the sincere efforts of police departments like this one in Dallas, and embark on the hard but necessary work of negotiation, the pursuit of reconciliation.

With an open heart, police departments will acknowledge that, just like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals…. 

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right…

For all of us, life presents challenges and suffering — accidents, illnesses, the loss of loved ones.  There are times when we are overwhelmed by sudden calamity, natural or manmade.  All of us, we make mistakes.  And at times we are lost.  And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a President does.  But we do have control over how we respond to the world.  We do have control over how we treat one another.

President Obama’s “open heart” is simply nothing more than active listening, looking at the situation with empathy and from the other person’s perspective and then working together to find common ground as a means of moving forward to resolve the conflict. As Police Chief Brown commented in his own eulogy of the slain officers, his mother told him he had two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion. To resolve our country’s conflict, people must listen to each other, and acknowledge that they are listening to each other. People need to be heard – to be vindicated and validated – to have meaning created for them, all in a safe environment BEFORE they can move towards resolving the conflict.

Thus far, we have seen that while there have been many many protests, apparently, and as recognized by President Obama in his speech, these protests have been dismissed and denied; until the substance of these protests are validated and vindicated, are heard and acknowledged we, as a nation, will not move forward in resolving this conflict.

Will we as a nation heed the call and start really, really listening, or as President Obama lamented, will we be “…overtaken by the return to business as usual, by inertia and old habits and expediency.  I see how easily we slip back into our old notions, because they’re comfortable, we’re used to them”? (Id.)   

… Just something to think about.


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