By Christopher Essner
Take a look at that woman you see on the bus or the man behind the counter at the coffee shop. Take a look at the teacher behind her desk, or the police officer in his car. What do you see?
Maybe you see a male or female. Maybe they are wrinkled with knowledge and old age. Maybe they are young and brash. Maybe they are white, black, or some shade of color in between. Maybe they have a funny accent. Maybe they sit alone, or with a group of people. Maybe they stare back.
Take a long, hard look… I’ll wait…. What do you see?
Do you see that woman on the bus worried about her next meeting? Or the man at the counter greeting each customer with a smile, and a ‘How was your day?’ Maybe that teacher is preparing her notes for class, so that one day your child can reach their fullest potential. Maybe that police officer is ending his shift, excited to make it home to see his family after protecting yours.
But you didn’t look did you? You were too busy in your own thoughts, your own worries and your own problems to notice another’s. To closed off to realize these are people who have lives just like you. They have bills to pay, jobs to do, and families to feed. These people struggle through the hard times, for a chance to embrace the good ones. We all want whats best for those around us.
Instead another American city is burning. The Baltimore night sky flashes red and blue as we sit in our living rooms watching the violence unfold on a high-definition screen. Communities are crumbling along with the dreams of those who helped piece them together.
We are at a tipping point. Over the past year violence has threatened to tear our nation apart. We must ask ourselves what we truly want as a people. What do we truly desire for ourselves and our neighbors? How long must we bear witness to the suffering of others? How often do we need to see riots unfold in the streets of our cities before we stand up and say enough?
It is easy to say that this is the result of a few violent individuals than to take a long hard look at the problems that plague our society every day. People have lost faith in the very institutions that are meant to inspire us to be excellent. We once looked to the stars, knowing one day we would reach beyond our lonely island.
We have given up the dream of being better than we could imagine, and replaced it with being better than “them.” We judge people by the way they look, how they act, and how much they own. Our character as a nation is breaking, chipped away by the lack of empathy for those around us. Its this lack of empathy that allows young men to throw stones; that allows old men to harden their stereotypes. This lack of empathy which makes us believe “That will never happen where I live.”
It’s time to wake up and realize that we have a chance, right at this moment in time. We have a chance to break the chains of the past, and free ourselves of their heavy burden. We can forge a new path forward, arm in arm, and hold ourselves to a higher standard. Open your eyes and your hearts to even the coldest amongst us, and we can shine brighter than anything in that sky we so like to reach for.