Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the tragic shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed St. Louis teenager who was gunned down by a cop in August. If you are truly in the know, you are aware that his extrajudicial killing was far from a unique occurrence. In fact, between 2010 and 2012, police have killed 1,217 people (most of whom were Black or Latino). The data overwhelmingly points to racial bias in the administration of deadly “justice”, but that doesn’t stop many willfully ignorant people from clamoring to find any excuse BUT race to explain away the police’s proclivity toward blowing Black people’s heads off.
If you have found yourself frustrated after having tried (and probably failed) to explain how obviously unjust these situations are, don’t fret – most of us have. You might have even left one of these conversations thinking that there is no point in having another. But I am here to give you hope and hopefully some tools to help ensure your next encounter is at least productive. Remember, if you have the light of knowledge, you have a duty to share it with the blind. If you share it and they don’t use it, THEY have failed. If you have it and don’t share it, YOU have failed ;-)
- REMAIN CALM
I can’t emphasize this enough. Once you blow your cool, the transmission of ideas is severely compromised. This is rule number one for many reasons and the first one is that the verbal manifestation of ignorance can be mind-blowingly infuriating. Just think about the last time you heard someone bring up cigarillos during a conversation about Mike Brown. #objectionyourhonor_irrelevance
- THINK LONG TERM
Teaching a person can take time. No one masters new material in a single lecture. That being said, realize that the messages you are trying to convey may need to be delivered multiple times and in different ways. You may need to continue the conversation sometime in the future. If you forget this tenant (and/or violate rule 1) you may not get an opportunity to reinforce the message at a later date.
- PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
A lifetime of flapping your gums doesn’t make you a master communicator. Most people don’t even talk WITH each other; instead, they talk TO each other (the distinction is critical). Communication is NOT talking and waiting for your turn to talk. It is active listening. It is a concerted effort to not only be understood, but also to understand. So practice with friends and family so that when you are communicating with someone who you know less intimately, someone who may not be as easy to have a dialogue with, you are prepared.
- ACCURATE FACTS OVER SPECULATION
Be knowledgeable on the subject. Know the facts. Know the sources. Be able to identify a credible source over one that is not credible. Be able to point someone to your sources. And above all, do not speak authoritatively about something you aren’t sure of. Preface factual statements with, “According to suchandsuch.com” or “In the book, blahblahblah, author states the following”. These kinds of statements are harder for a nay-sayer to attack and conversely, they are easier for you to defend.
- DON’T BE SUCH A HUMAN
Human beings have a tendency not to believe in things that cannot be measured. Do you know the impact that your conversation will have on a person? NO. Can you determine the impact it will have on yourself? NO. You don’t know and you will never know because we don’t have a scientific and quantifiable way of measuring that impact. But by the same token, it’s difficult to measure the impact of a mother’s love yet no one would challenge its importance in child rearing. That being said, do not pass up an opportunity to share your knowledge with another human being. Do not be a defeatist. Do not assume that your words will have no effect – simply because you do not see that effect.
Some people will dedicate their life to service and for them we should be grateful. Other people will live their entire life selfishly with no thought for their neighbor. Most of us will fall somewhere in between. To you, I will leave this charge: you hold knowledge that can make our world better – share it. Not sure how? Try this: the next time you meet a co-worker at the water cooler, ask them if they heard about the baby in Georgia whose nose was blown off by the grenade a police officer threw while serving a drug-related arrest warrant. Don’t forget to mention that the deputy who threw the grenade avoided any criminal charges. If that starts a good conversation, GREAT. If not, no problem. What a person does with the torch of knowledge is their own cross to bear. Yours is simply to pass that torch.