Can we all get along?
Anatasia Kim :
On March 3, 1991, Rodney G. King was horribly beaten by the LAPD. Viewed all over the world, the infamous footage became a visceral symbol of police brutality and the long-standing racial tensions in the U.S. I was 18 years old, finishing up my last year of high school in Los Angeles County.
The LA riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers who beat King resulted in 63 deaths, over 2300 injuries, and close to a billion dollars in material damages. In the midst of a city burning with destruction and despair, King made a televised appearance. He was emotional. His words were raw, urgent, and unrehearsed. "Can we all get along?" he asked.
There were many who were angry by what King said; they believed he was conciliatory and even undermined a righteous rebellion. I personally wondered the same thing. But the 24/7 images of poor and disenfranchised neighborhoods being completely decimated also didn't feel right either. It was complicated.
Twenty-eight years later, King's question still rings hauntingly true.
If our exchanges on news outlets and social media are any indicators, the answer seems to be a clear and resounding No! Beyond the full exercise of our first amendment rights, as evidenced by the colorful and unapologetic diversity of views, there is an irrefutable, unrelenting, and growing tension of merciless vitriol and animus. And any enduring signs of basic decency and respect seem fleeting at best.
There is much to debate critically and disagree passionately today than ever before - institutional racism, climate justice, income inequality, reproductive rights, etc. Against this backdrop, anger and outrage are to be expected. But even with defensible anger, is there no room for common decency and respect? Are we not able to "get along" enough to work together? If so, what mess are we leaving behind for our children to clean up?
We must engage differently. We can be fiercely passionate and also respond from a place of grace and wisdom. We have to be responsible for moving the needle in the direction of progress, instead of emboldening the ever-deepening divide.
Constructive conversations about challenging and even controversial topics are possible. But first and foremost, we need to start with ourselves. We can all use a major reset and lots of practice. Here are some suggestions from the Kim Constructive Conversations Model to get us moving.
Pause. Slow it down. Take a mindful breath or two.
(Anatasia Kim, Ph.D. is a professor at Wright State Institute).