For one of the first times in my life, I walked away. I actually walked away after feeling the sting of having my son being insulted (for being Black), being accused of being “sheltered,” and told I was “contributing to the problem.” I walked away and let me tell you, I’m not the kind to walk away. I walked away because something finally clicked (and maybe because my husband HIGHLY recommended it). The man who was insulting me would not, COULD NOT be reached. He sees black and white. I’m seeing gray. What I’m going to share with you could possibly sound incredibly narcissistic and I guess I risk that judgement. I risk it because I want you to know that this discovery has brought freedom to me. I’m hoping it brings freedom to you.
When I write an entire article about the importance of listening to the stories of People of Color does that mean I don’t want to embrace my dear friend who is terrified for her police officer husband to go to work?
When I say to support “Black Lives Matter,” does that mean that I don’t agree that all lives matter?
When I say to “Pray for Dallas” does that mean that I am anti-Black protesting?
Can I be enraged about police brutality and hold a deep respect for those in law enforcement?
Some of you reading this will understand that I can hold both. I can hold a love for police officers and for the Black community. I can have a deep appreciation for law enforcement and at the same time see that there is a problem with the current system.
Some people CANNOT hold both.
I’m emphasizing CANNOT because I want you to understand that some people, because of where they are developmentally, neurologically CAN’T sit in a gray space. Things are black or they are white. That is how they see.
These people need to be differentiated from the people who could but WILL NOT see and the people who CAN AND WILL see.
As a writer, it’s scary to put my words out into the world. I’m sure there are times when you’ve posted on social media or had conversations with others when you felt that same risk. When we stand for something charged with the electricity of change, it’s a risk. If they can’t appreciate it, admire it, they’ll be burned by it. And when they get burned, they will try to burn you back.
So let’s peer into this a little closer. What do I mean when I say some people literally can’t sit in a gray space? I can’t be serious, right?
I wish I wasn’t serious but I’m also so relieved that I am.
Before I go on, here’s what I’m not doing.
I’m not excusing hate.
I’m not giving us all a pass to not speak-up.
I’m not saying that anyone is a lost cause.
Here’s what I am saying. We are all on a developmental curve. We develop spiritually, emotionally, and, most obviously, physically. That development is not linear and it’s not increasing at the same rate as chronological age. Emotional development is effected by many factors such as trauma and substance abuse. One of the milestones of emotional development is the ability to hold tension. As Christians, we come to embrace the paradoxical nature of our faith. To become great you must be the least. This is one example of holding tension. Two seeming opposites are true. In fact, it is one that fulfills the other.
#BlackLivesMatter is a beautiful example of this type of fulfillment. In order for “all lives” to matter, we must be honest that Black lives haven’t mattered as much as those of other races. For us to embrace that one does not negate the other is a sign of emotional maturity. As our brains matured, that helped us to see another way. Our minds were expanded and new possibilities were available to us.
Not everyone is so fortunate. Sometimes by choice but often by means of environmental factors, some are limited to a dualistic view of the world. They simply can’t hold both, it has to be one or the other. In the least patronizing way possible, I implore you that we must have compassion for these people. Compassion doesn’t mean aligning, it doesn’t mean excusing. It means recognizing that, through possibly no fault of their own, they CANNOT understand what you are trying so desperately to communicate. These are the people you talk sports with and leave it at that. By all means, test the waters but if you consistently find yourself being attacked, it’s probably best to switch gears.
When we approach electric conversations with others, remember that we’re never coming from the same place as each other. Sometimes we’re close in our thinking and sometimes we’re not. Often, we came to our beliefs through a series of revelations. We accumulate information over a span of years. Our neurodevelopment allows us to integrate this information and to process it. If you’re not getting through to someone, it may because they don’t have all of the information or it could be because, neurologically, they can’t hold the paradox. We can’t force emotional development through one conversation. But we still need to have these conversations. The only thing that needs to change is our expectations.
Today, I had a sweet potato for lunch. I chose to microwave it because I didn’t have time to bake it in the oven. It was ok. In some places it was cooked thoroughly but there were still some crunchy spots. When we try to force an idea that we’re not developmentally ready for, we may get it in some ways, but the idea won’t be fully baked with all of the richness of flavor that it could have.
I’m only in my thirties and there are a lot of things I hear people talk about that I just don’t quite get yet. I want to get these concepts, and I honestly believe them to be true. For example, I hear people in their forties say all of the time that they have stopped caring what others think of them. Man, that sounds really nice. I could tell you straight to your face right now, “I don’t care what people think. Whatever.” But every now and then, the truth slips out in my actions. I’m not quite there yet. I’d love to be but you know what? I’m not supposed to be there yet. Some things take time. They take experience, they take epiphanies that can’t be manufactured. They have to bloom in their time.
I know I can’t change the minds of many people when it comes to racial reconciliation. There’s absolutely nothing I could say to change their minds. The pump isn’t primed yet. But for others, we are on the verge of something new. We are ready and (mostly) willing to hear new ideas. Sometimes our hearts are already there but we don’t have words for our new beliefs.
I want to encourage my fellow writers and social media users to not be afraid. Use your voice. Don’t worry about those who can’t be reached right now. We never know at what stage in someone else’s development we could be facilitating. We also need to be humble and recognize that we have blind spots too. By raising our voices we also get the opportunity to be grown through the response of others.
Now when I write, I hope for opposition. I hope for a reminder of why I write. It fuels me and sharpens me. Yes, it hurts sometimes. But it hurts like it did when I hit a hurdle in Track and Field. Now know I need to jump a little higher in that area. I’ll be ok. I’m still running a race and those hurdles will always be there. I want to encourage you, that you’ll be ok too. Don’t be afraid of the jabs from others. Just keep running the race.
For a deeper understanding of neurological and human development check out these resources: