Written by Dr. Mary Lou Finley
Sometimes we describe this principle as ”Attack problems, not people.” I find that those are the words that more easily get through to my heart.
When things go wrong, when we see evil or injustice being committed, we may sometimes feel like striking back at the person who is committing that injustice. Sometimes, we hear others call for “justice” against that wrongdoer---meaning punish him or her. And yet, where does that take us? Not as far as we might think.
Instead, we need to find a way to attack the “forces of evil” - the root causes of what has gone wrong. Otherwise, injustice is likely to just keep rearing its head in new forms.
Recently we have all been witness to, for instance, police using excessive force, sometimes killing African-Americans in horrendous ways. Most recently we witnessed the shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, sparking protests around the U.S. and even around the world. Yet, will firing or even charging and then imprisoning one police officer—or ten or twenty—stop this? Not necessarily. We need to dig down to see what is causing this behavior. Is it poor training? Hiring the wrong people? Or perhaps some ancient fear of black men (and sometimes women too), deep in the psyche of the nation’s “white” people, going back to the days of slavery when the enslavers feared revolts of the enslaved? Maybe all of these, and more. We need to find the answers to this pressing question for there to be real transformation. We need to look for the root causes and find ways to transform those underlying systems. Holding individual police officers accountable in some way may also be appropriate, but we need to recognize that this may not be enough to bring the change we seek.
As our colleague Kazu Haga has often said, no one should be judged solely by the worst thing they have ever done. If we are to work toward the goal of the beloved community, where everyone is included, we need to see the possibility of goodness even in those we oppose. As the Quakers would say, “there is that of God in every person, and if we can speak to that core goodness, a transformative moment may come. Isabel Wilkerson describes it this way in her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents: “the heart is the last frontier.” She tells the story of reaching an indifferent (“white”) plumber, at her home to solve a problem. By speaking of her recent loss of her mother and inquiring about his mother, then listening as he suddenly shifted gears, he seemed to see her in a new way as he spoke of his mother, and connected to her plumbing problem in a robust and caring way, quickly helping her solve it. In other, more difficult circumstances, we may find that those hurting others have been traumatized themselves, and their pain must be healed for transformation to occur.
Thus, we align ourselves with this principle, first so that we can get to the bottom of the injustice and find its root causes, and through that bring lasting change and healing, and as Dr. King would say, ’‘the presence of justice.” Only then, we can reach out to those who are causing the pain and injustice—in search of their transformation. The goal, in the end, is a reconciled world.