We have experienced trying times the last few months. From racism to natural disaster to senseless violence, we have all been affected by what has happened in our country over recent months. It has enough for even the most optimistic among us to become discouraged. Some of it has been downright disheartening— especially as we see that some of these wounds are self-inflicted!
It is not just the bad things that are occurring; at times, what has been most discouraging has been to see how some have responded. Tragic circumstances are used to score political points. Thoughtless, foolish statements are made. And sometimes the victims are blamed. How many have responded creates an even larger tear in the fabric of our nation and community. And it increases the distance between us.
It has been the worst of times, but it has also been the best of times.
We have seen numerous people step up in the midst of these challenges and tragedies. We have seen it in relief efforts on behalf strangers—sometimes through giving food and other times through lines of people gathered to give blood at times of deep need. We have seen the solidarity of flags set at half-mast throughout southern California in response to the Las Vegas shooting. We have seen people from our community recognize and memorialize the losses of friends and colleagues via social media. And many of us have experienced it in the moments of silence to begin and end local community meetings. It has been deeply inspiring.
As I soak it all in, both the good and the bad, I am perplexed! How is it that members of our communities are capable of both so much bad and so much good? An honest assessment of humanity recognizes that we are both blessed and broken, but it still seems hard to understand our capacity to swing between the two. What accounts for these different responses?
Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact that we are much more likely to empathize with people we know and understand. It’s much easier to criticize or fight a stranger or someone that we’re not looking in the eye. But when I look someone in the eye, I empathize with their travails on TV, or I engage them at the coffee shop on Main Street, I’m touched by what they’re facing.
As I think about that, I can’t help but conclude how much our organizations matter!
When I stop by Richie’s for lunch, I talk to the cashier, my waiter, and countless other neighbors. When I check in on classes at our campus, I see that our faculty and students know each other. And when I visit any of the various community meetings in Southwest Riverside County, I can’t help but connect with members of our community. As I do, I am all the more disposed to seek their good.
Our institutions don’t simply power the region’s economic engine. They also serve as a centripetal force, holding our community together.