Ferguson: What's Going On

If I whisper your name and you do not respond, my need to get your attention will grow. Eventually, I will call your name out loud. If you do not hear me or choose to ignore me, my need to have you pay attention and acknowledge my presence will be intensified. People have a need to be seen and heard. How we go about getting the attention we need or desire in any given moment can be questioned or judged, neither of which lessens the need.

Unmet needs give rise to a variety of emotions, many of which are toxic. These needs are often fueled by personal history and experience. Unmet needs often clash with the energy of the environment in which they live, giving rise to fear, anger or denial. People need to feel safe. They need to feel valued. When people do not feel seen, heard or important, when they have needs that are dismissed, ignored or denied, they will do whatever they feel is necessary to get the attention of those they perceive can give them relief. A whisper becomes a call. A call becomes a yell. When a yell does not yield a response, people may pump their fists in the air. When the fists do not get a response, something will be thrown. If you are hit by what is thrown, you will respond, not to the initial need, but to the fact that you got hit. The need that motivated the whisper remains unaddressed. The attention is now shifted to what I did rather than what I needed in the first place. Whether we are looking at the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, the uprising in Egypt two years ago or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus, there is an outcry of unmet needs and the experience of feeling unsafe and devalued in this country that must be acknowledged and addressed.

Couples do it to each other when they feel everything else has failed. Parents do it to their children when they are stressed or overwhelmed. Supervisors and co-workers do it overtly and covertly in ways that are both hurtful and harmful. People get angry. When they do, they act out, strike out and commit acts which, if they are in their "right minds" they would not do and for which they often feel embarrassed and remorseful. We live in a world that has done a dismally ineffective job of teaching people how to channel or express difficult emotions. Those who witness or experience inappropriate emotional expressions often go into fear, then into judgment, then they expect the worst of you and from you. In fact, they prepare for it, escalating the stakes and diminishing the initial need. Now their need takes priority. There is something they want from you. They want you to be quiet and go away. Now it's about power; who has it and who doesn't. More difficult emotion to process; more needs to be met.

When fear is present, vision is obscured. When anger and rage cloud the mind, reasoning is faulty. When people are hurt, they fear it will get worse. When they are angry, they look for ways to defuse and disperse the energy. When people feel their power is challenged, they intensify their resistance. If people feel their power is stolen, they act out in anger and despair. Human beings pushed to the limit of their experience and capacity to process what they are feeling will and do act out. They do it in their homes. They do it on their jobs. When there is no experience of justice, there can be no peace. When people feel they are not being heard, they will do whatever they feel is necessary to get your attention. They did it in Ferguson, MO. They did it with Occupy Wall Street. They did it in Selma. It will continue to happen in overt and covert ways until the needs of people are acknowledged and addressed.

Individually and collectively, we can attach a variety of reasons, rationales and judgments to what we have seen in Ferguson. We can agree or disagree. We can understand or not. What we must not do is deny that the needs of people in various pockets of this society are being ignored and dismissed. It is time to admit that we are ill equipped and often unwilling to address the difficult truths that are erupting in the streets through our society. People are suffering. Many are in despair. We no longer trust the systems and institutions created to protect and serve us. The institutions in Ferguson expected the worst from the people. They expected their power to be challenged. They got just what they expected. The people expected the worst from the institutions. They have seen it before. They trusted a system that had already proven it could not, would not, respond to their need for justice. They too got exactly what they expected.

Anything that anyone says in this moment cannot be heard with an open mind or heart. We are now taking sides. We are looking at historical, social and personal perceptions of right and wrong; guilt and innocence; fairness and unfairness. The issue is no longer the death of an unarmed youth. The issue has shifted away from the breakdown of trust between police authorities and the people they are entrusted to protect. Dare we mention the criminalization and demonization of African American males throughout this country? Can we, without fear of reprisal and attack, suggest the possibility of abuse of power by police authorities? Should we even consider the difficult job of police officers in cities around the country when it is known that they are not trusted, often despised, with or without good reason? Are we to continue ignoring feelings of powerlessness, the need to be heard and seen, to feel valuable and important when you are poor or black or gay or elderly or just human? Where exactly are we to look for healing? What exactly is it that we expect to be healed?

To heal means to make whole again; to restore to original purpose and value. This would require that everyone involved become willing to see, acknowledge and address the real truths that have resulted in more pain, more unmet needs, greater demonstrations of power and a deeper sense of powerlessness and despair. It is possible that we are witnessing what happens when the very thing that makes us human -- our capacity to think and respond with emotion -- is taken lightly or not even considered. We may be sitting in the result of moving away from the heart, the need to feel connected. Perhaps we are being confronted with what happens when people who are invisible are allowed into your mind, heart and home at all hours of the day and night. One thing for sure, what is being played out on the news is not going away. History will repeat herself until you understand what she is saying and address it head on.

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