Empathy and Possibility in Ferguson

I wrote this after discussing with one of my empathy buddies, Rodger Sorrow, his anguish about events in Ferguson, MO, and reading Miki Kashtan's call to action on the CNVC certified trainers' email list.

I hoped to contribute to the discussion a compassionate understanding for all involved.  I ask for your voices to be added to the discussion. Perhaps this terrible break offers an opportunity to engage in the serious discussions we need to have about race relations, militarization of police departments, and the costs of injustice to everyone.

Love and blessings,   Meganwind


November 25, 2014

Dear Editor,


Hearing about the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent trial outcome followed by riots, I am moved to respond by speaking to my community here in Santa Rosa.  Our own tragedy around 13 year old Andy Garcia’s death in Santa Rosa led to many peaceful demonstrations here with grief and respect being spoken by community members, businesses where demonstrations occurred and others.

How deep the grief for Michael’s family, for his unlived life?  How profound the ache for fairness and justice for the African American community, indeed for the entire American society?  When people are treated poorly as a group over time, how could there not be anger and horror?  Yet I read there were only slight injuries in all the rioting in Ferguson.  When you look into your heart, do you want safety and peace for each man, woman and child in our community, in our country, in our world?  Can we see the events in our world and not feel our hearts break?  We need to let them break.  And we need to approach our conflicts with confidence that we are smart enough to work things out so our world will work for everyone.  If the boat sinks, we’re all going down.

We know we have a tense and uneasy situation around racial differences in America.  It is so difficult to discuss.  So much anger, hurt, guilt, shame and grief flow that it is nearly impossible to hear one another fully when these topics arise, even when people come as open-hearted as possible to the discussion.  We are both individuals and members of a group, and these multi-layered experiences need to be acknowledged.

I know the charge given to police is to enforce our laws.  It is often a thankless task.  And I imagine it is unsettling to see people who are angrier and angrier approach, so that anyone from such a group might appear to be a dangerous opponent.  And we live in such a litigious time that police and city governments are constrained from expressing common human sorrow and regret for harm done.  But we are more than fear.  We can be responsible, caring, inclusive humans.  As social and world tensions escalate, we do not need to devolve to our lowest common denominator.

When people are treated poorly as a group over time, how can the minds and consciences of the harmers not be touched by shame, regret, and rationales for self-defense?  The cost is not only to those harmed.  It is also to the self-respect and dignity of those who act in ways that cause harm.  Further, it precipitates erosion of respect for authority, which can only bring those representing authority into greater risk and may lead to more violent responses when facing the community.  This increases suffering in the entire community.

I am half Chinese.  In that culture, I understand persimmons are considered a symbol for human and spiritual development.  Like the persimmon which is hard and bitter when young and then grows sweet with age, we humans start rigid and hard in our opinions, and with age we sweeten with understanding there is common human suffering and common joy.  We become beneficial to humankind.  As we ripen, compassion can suffuse us.

Please join me in grieving for Michael Brown and his family, for the police, for the people who rioted, for the businesses hurt in the riots.  Join me in calling for fairness, justice, safety and security for our fellows.  I welcome your thoughts in response to my words.



Meganwind Eoyang

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