After nearly two weeks of protests and unrest following the police killing of George Floyd, I along with millions of other Americans, have been pondering what we can collectively learn from this horrific situation and its ongoing aftermath. Once again, we hear a clarion call for fundamental societal change and reform; it takes me back to the memory of another black victim of racial violence, Rodney King, who more than a generation ago said those famous words that have resonated with me throughout my life, “Can we all just get along?”
During this divisive and troubling time, I harken back to one of America’s core values: unification, beyond all odds. Since 1776, the motto of our country has been E Pluribus Unum – “out of many, one.” Every time we pull a quarter or a dime out of our pocket, we see this phrase, which sums up our country’s vision as a distinct array of cultural values woven together on the idea of a united and democratic Republic. What America means to me is that everyone has a place here. In other words, each person’s life has inherent meaning, and we all deserve respect. Without embracing these values, we may be destined to drift apart as a nation, our great experiment in Democracy over.
Of course, getting along together, as one united country, is more complex and difficult than it may seem. But that becomes easier when we actively listen to each other and show empathy for our life’s struggles. This is such a simple, yet powerful, notion, and it means a great deal to me. How can we move forward as a country if we are not together? If we do not care about each other? Our communities?
After my late husband, Larry, gave his life serving in the Vietnam War, I had an experience that showed how powerful empathy and listening can be to those who feel unheard. Until a Memorial Day Parade in Chicago years after his death, I had not experienced the meaningful recognition for those who had lost their lives, and the living families and people impacted by those who died. In fact, in the years following the war, veterans were often subjected to vitriol by those who opposed it which is why so many struggled with feelings of depression and alienation.
On that day in Chicago, I was swept up by the emotional impact that Memorial Day parade had on the crowd. So many people around me were finally experiencing acknowledgment by others for their loss of a loved one who died serving their country.
As I cried during the procession, I was greeted by one of the most unlikely people, a Vietnam War protestor. He gave me a hug, and at that moment, he demonstrated empathy and compassion, active listening, for someone who had lost a loved one in this horrific war.
Now, this moment in American history, we also need to uplift others by showing them the same kind of empathy and compassion. We must connect meaningfully to those around us who are hurting, start to understand their experiences of inequity, and of being invisible and unrepresented in our country.
Let us truly ask ourselves why we, as a united America, can’t just all get along? What is stopping us from showing each other the purest forms of compassion, empathy, and listening that all human beings deserve to be shown as Americans?
© Tyra Manning 2020