The media would have you believe it’s us against them.
The list goes on and on because pitting us against one another makes for exciting television and interesting news feeds. And that, my friends, is a valuable commodity indeed.
It’s with a very heavy, hollow heart that I wake to images of more terrorism as well as a video of another unarmed black man being shot dead by a police officer. I never know what I’m going to get when I step into our world each morning. Another school shooting? Another police officer being gunned down? Another airport bombing? Another instance of social injustice?
Some days it’s all too much. I feel hopeless to stop the vicious cycles. And so I turn away from the media and go about my life because I don’t know what else there is for me to do.
This morning, I head to Target. I’m easing my minivan into the turn lane as I approach the light in front of the shopping center, daydreaming about the Dollar Spot and the clearance section and my small stack of coupons, when out of nowhere another car comes careening from behind, forcing its way in front of me from the far-right lane. I slam on my breaks to allow the driver in because the last thing my morning needs is a collision. As I sit there waiting for the light to turn green, collecting the dumped-out contents of my purse from the passenger side floor, I try not to get worked up about being cut off. But it’s too late. I’m definitely miffed.
Sixty seconds later, as the traffic begins to advance, I’m still cursing under my breath. How dare that driver pull over like that in such a dangerous and irresponsible manner. Suddenly it’s me (the good driver) against her (the bad driver) and it’s all I can do not pull up beside her car to let her know how I feel.
And then as we make the turn, I see the woman at the wheel of the other car.
And I know her.
And just like that, all of the anger falls away.
Although I’m not intimately acquainted with her, I know from the woman’s most recent Facebook status that her husband is away on business for the week, her toddler has the croup, and her dog ingested a plate of raw chicken the night before. As I watch her pull into the pet hospital parking lot, I know intuitively she’s at her wit’s end, and it occurs to me as she drags the dog and her toddler and her 4-year-old out of the car that she’s already late for preschool drop off.
With so much on her plate it’s no wonder she almost missed her turn.
As she disappears into the building, I realize we’re no longer in opposition. I’m not pitted against her anymore because I am her. I’ve been her dozens of times before, just doing the best I can, trying to hold it all together. I can forgive her for cutting me off.
I can forgive her for being human.
You see, it’s harder to hate someone when you can see a bit of yourself in them. And sometimes all it takes is a single thread of commonality to turn anger into understanding. The truth is I am just one person, and I can’t singlehandedly undo thousands of years of oppression and prejudice. What I can do, though, is look for the cohesive ties that unite us. When I think I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with the addict or the criminal or the protester, I dig a little deeper until I find that one thing that makes us both human and I latch onto it, clutching it to my breast like a mantle. I promise you, if you look hard enough, you will always find something in common with the person on the other side of the table. Look for it and you just might make the world a kinder place.
Amalie Jahn is the author of The Clay Lion Series and The Sevens Prophecy Series. A TED speaker, human rights advocate, and active promoter of kindness, she lives in the United States with her husband, two children, and three extremely overfed cats. You can find her online at www.amaliejahn.com.