In May, 1992, there was a brutal police beating of an African American man named Rodney King. When the officers involved were acquitted in a trial, six days of riots broke out that resulted in 2,383 injuries and 63 deaths. In the midst of the riots, Rodney King held a press conference in which he said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
I was in Northern California for the last three days, visiting my sister, Jill, my brother-in-law and my nephew. We all celebrated Thanksgiving together and my sister and I did some shopping, laughed a lot and we went to see the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In 1968, a man named Fred Rogers began a TV show that lasted for over 30 years that was critically acclaimed for showing children how to feel and manage their feelings. Including death and sadness. He said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
When I was waiting for my plane ride home, I thought about how Jill and I had embraced his philosophy. We had upsets early in our relationship, sibling rivalries and misunderstandings that are common among families. But we had each worked extensively on ourselves over the years so despite the fact that we couldn’t be more different, we accepted each other completely and we focused on being loving and compassionate. We ended our trip with great appreciation, a lot of love, and a deeper understanding of each other and the ways that we are the same.
When I review the Rodney King incident and Mr. Rogers demonstration of kindness and compassion, I can’t help thinking that there is a better way to be in this current period of disappointment and unrest. We are constantly being tested with sales calls that we don’t want, traffic jams all day long and political differences that cause isolation and distress. I want to get along with people so I decided to make an effort to fashion my emotional responses after Mr. Rogers. Not swallowing anger or pretending not to care. I’m talking about being real with my feelings and not taking them out on anyone else. Listening instead of interrupting. Looking at things from someone else’s point of view. Realizing that everyone doesn’t feel the same way that I feel at any given time.
It’s possible to find common ground with people who are different from us but we have to make an effort to slow down and find the places where we agree. We have to place more importance on being kind than being right. We have to thank each other, even when we don’t feel heard or understood. There are ways to catch ourselves when we’re about to lash out. Mr. Rogers swam laps and studied the bible. We can find our own versions of that. I read books, knit, make beautiful things out of leather and work out at the gym. When disputes arise, I try to comfort myself and others instead of making myself or anyone else wrong. I try to see the love and acceptance in a situation instead of focusing on the anger and blame. In these ways, I work toward a goal of kindness and compassion. And incidentally, these things make life a lot more fun.
What do you do?