Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird, had some sage advice for his daughter Scout when she was confused by some injustice. He told her that you never really understand a person until you walk around in their shoes for a while and see things from their point of view. I believe this counsel fits well as we grapple with the situation in Ferguson Missouri this week.
The following are people we may want to empathize with instead of focusing on anger and polarizing judgments.
1. Michael Brown’s parents: There may be nothing in this world as painful as losing a child. At some level we can relate because we have all lost people we cared about deeply, and so we must keep these people in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season.
2. Officer Wilson’s parents: I imagine it has been a painful 3 months watching their son suffer from this event. There has been a lot of negative conjecture about his guilt and possible wrongdoing, plus whatever he is feeling because of having killed a young man in the line of duty. I feel for Officer Wilson and his parents.
3. Michael Brown’s friend: I wonder how the young man who accompanied Michael that day feels about what has occurred. Does he harbor any guilt? Does he ever wonder: “Why Michael and not me?” “Could I have done something to change the outcome?”
4. Neighbors: I can’t imagine how scary it is for people who live in that neighborhood; having to huddle in basements to stay safe while they hear sounds of violence and gunshots all around them.
5. Parents of African-American sons: They tell me they worry non-stop about their boys getting into situations like Michael Brown. They coach them from the time they are young about how to handle police officers and people in authority who might be treating them unjustly. They want their sons to be safe.
6. Bob McCullough and his family: protesters and national media have vilified him for 3 months. No matter what the verdict, he was going to piss off a lot of people. I can’t imagine the amount of stress he and his family have endured.
7. The grand jury: Those people have been working in a tough, no-win job for 3 months, maintaining secrecy and not being able to vent to others. Think of the pressures they were under to get it right while under an international spotlight.
8. Police/National Guard: I can’t conceive what it must be like to stand in formation in the freezing cold and silently take hours of verbal abuse without reacting. They have had to spend days and nights away from family and friends during the holidays, and with no end in sight. Talk about a thankless job.
9. Sam and Natalie: I saw that Sam’s Meat Market was burned to the ground by rioters, and Natalie Dubose’s cake shop was vandalized, and my heart goes out to them. My wife and I started our own business 26 years ago, and so I recognize the courage and determination it takes to start and maintain a small business. How sad it must have been for them to see their dreams needlessly going up in smoke.
10. Children: I feel for the children who live in Ferguson, absorbing a multitude of emotions from the adults around them. No child deserves to live with the fear, anger, confusion, sadness, and stress they have throughout this ordeal. Kids have missed school and having their families around them. And they experienced a lot of adults who they should be able to trust behaving badly. Kids always mirror the adults around them, including emotionally, but oftentimes they hold off on expressing their feelings until the adults around them are more settled. We need to be there for them when their emotions start to bubble forth.
Even though most of us can’t relate exactly to the events that have transpired in Ferguson, we can try to put ourselves in the shoes of those involved in order to come from a place of understanding and compassion. That is what Atticus Finch would have done, and so should we.