- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
Why sit with remorse and empathy in the face of trauma?
This has been a week of deep sadness and anger as collective trauma has erupted throughout our cities. And I have been watching reactions and responses, starting with my own.
Responses to the murder of another unarmed Black man. Reactions to the violence and looting.
It is a human impulse to deny, deflect and minimize as a strategy to move away from the itchy, deeply uncomfortable feelings that come up and boil over when trauma is spoken out loud.
"He must have done something wrong, people don't get wrestled to the ground for nothing."
"I understand being angry, but looting? C'mon. That is going too far."
"There are outside insurgents burning down our buildings... these aren't "our" people."
"We can get past this. Let's rebuild Lake Street and get our lives back to normal."
And the worst of the worst - denial, deflection and minimizing from President Trump: "I demand that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. If you refuse, the US military will quickly solve the problem for you."
All of these statements inflict additional harm on a community that is suffering collective trauma because of systemic, exclusionary governmental policies that support racist society.
There is a different way.
What if, instead of denying, deflecting or minimizing, we sat with empathy and remorse? What would that feel like?
The police officers in Miami who took a knee.
The Sheriff in Michigan who put down his baton to listen to protesters. According to CNN, the protesters chanted "Walk with us," and so he did.
And from Minnesota's Governor Walz: "You cannot continue to say you’re a great place to live if your neighbor, because of the color of their skin, doesn’t have that same opportunity. And that will manifest itself in things that are the small hidden racisms. It’ll manifest itself in a child of color not getting the same opportunities, or a black community not being able to acquire wealth through home ownership because of lending practices. And as we all sudden saw last week, the ultimate end of that type of behavior is the ability to believe that you can murder a black man in public, and it is an unusual thing that murder charges were brought days later."
That feels totally different, even as I write it.
Empathy and remorse are healing tools. They require that I not make it about myself, that I not purport to know what the harm feels like, to not make it my job to "fix" the big picture (because, or course, that makes it about me).
Instead, it becomes my job to sit with the discomfort, to be responsible for my own learning through reading and conversations, to push myself to do my own personal work, to own and call out my privilege in order to play a responsible role in shifting the conversation within myself, my family, my friends' groups, my community and my country.
What I do right now will impact the next generation. I own that.
It is hard work. It is not convenient. And it is necessary.
With increased awareness of my privilege and the critical importance of racial justice comes an opportunity for me to re-align my behavior and walk my talk, as well as hold critical space for empathy and remorse - perhaps pulling my investments from companies that use prison labor, demanding that marijuana be decriminalized (not because more Black folks use it, but because more Black folks are arrested for possessing it), or read "How to be an Anti Racist" by American University professor Ibram X. Kendi.
When I choose to lean towards empathy and remorse, it helps determine my actions. And actions, aligned with values, supports optimal health.