A Reminder, For Our Troubled Times

Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As mature humans, we need to be able to hold two thoughts in our head at the same time. One thought is that rioting is wrong, damaging property is wrong, and these actions have no place in a civil society. The other thought is that some people who are rioting are doing so because they feel they have no other recourse. They have not been heard.

These two thoughts are not contradictory. Both can exist in equilibrium. We’re allowed to try to hear what the rioters are trying to say without condoning the destructive, harmful, and anti-social behavior we’ve seen from some fraction of the people out protesting.

I remember a time many, many years ago when my dad and I were having an argument. I knew that my position had the force of reason behind it, and I knew that if I could just explain where I was coming from, surely he would see why I did what I did. But every time I tried to explain, he would talk over me or make a cutting comment. I couldn’t put two words together.

Finally, I snapped. I screamed the words “CAN. I. SPEAK?

I don’t think I’d ever screamed at either of my parents before, certainly not like that. It got his attention. I had the floor, though I knew what I said had better be good.

It was. I explained my side, he saw my point. He accepted my argument.

After all is said and done, we can address those who went too far. We can reinforce the rules and make sure they are well understood. Where punishment is needed, it can be applied. But if we do that first, if we quiet the voices without listening to what they are saying, we are wronging them. We are ignoring the thousands of peaceful protesters who have not broken a single window or spray-painted a single stroke. We are not loving our neighbors.

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