Last night I went to bed to the news that nine people had been murdered at a well-known African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This morning I woke up to the news that in spite of the racially-motivated murders, the Confederate flag is still flying in South Carolina’s capitol.
This is a problem.
It’s a problem because the Confederate flag represents the pro-slavery advocates in the Civil War.
It’s a problem because it represents the sentiment of white supremacy groups who support discrimination and violence against people of other races.
It’s a problem because it reinforces North versus South, a division that hundreds of thousands of men died to heal more than 150 years ago.
But South Carolina’s Confederate flag represents more than a Black-and-White or North-and-South problem. It represents a problem that applies to each of us.
South Carolina’s Confederate flag is a symbol of dualism, a crude and immature way of thinking that oversimplifies groups, creates arbitrary lines between them, and divides into “us” and “them,” always pointing the finger at the other side and accusing them of being the one who’s different, the one who’s the problem.
Our society has been fractured by dualism and instead of growing beyond it, we have redoubled our efforts and fractured more.
North versus South.
Black versus White.
Male versus Female.
Gay versus Straight.
Republican versus Democrat.
Natives versus Immigrants.
Conservative versus Liberal.
In religious circles, we’ve fractured even more.
Complimentarian versus Egalitarian.
Calvinist versus Armenian.
Protestant versus Catholic.
Denominational versus Non-denominational.
As long as we divide the world between “us” and “them,” as long as we stand on our side of the line and point the finger away from ourselves, as long as we identify “them” as the source of the problem, what happened in South Carolina will continue to happen, both in our physical world, and in our hearts.
It will continue to happen until we start using the word that will change the world: WE.
Those who live in other states can’t point the finger at South Carolina and say, “They have a problem.”
No, “WE have a problem.”
Those who live in safe neighborhoods can’t point the finger at neighborhoods with higher crime rates and say, “They have a problem.”
No, “WE have a problem.”
Those who identify with a particular political party can’t point the finger across the aisle and say, “They are making a mess out of our country.”
No, “WE are making a mess out of our country.”
When we start using “WE,” the world begins to change.
Communities that have divided over race or economics begin to come together.
Political adversaries shake hands and work towards compromise instead of perpetuating conflict.
Men begin to advocate for women’s equal pay.
Citizens begin to welcome and include immigrants.
Religious communities begin to work together for the greater good instead of dividing over ridiculously meaningless differences.
Young people develop relationships with older generations, and vice versa.
Using the word that changes the world will cost us something.
It will cost us the identity we’ve adopted (albeit a false one) that has made us feel secure.
It will cost us the “right” to be indignant.
It will cost us our comfort.
It will cost us our well-massaged ego.
It will cost us our passivity.
It will cost us our aggression.
It will cost us if we begin to use the word that changes the world. But it will cost us more if we don’t.
Today, we can begin to change the world with one small and simple act.
Any time we’re tempted to say “they,” let’s say “we” instead.
The bad news out of South Carolina today is not that they have a problem; it’s that WE have a problem.
The good news is that WE are all part of the solution.