I type this from the other side of the world right now. As I follow the events of this weekend in Charlottesville, VA, about 3 hours from where I live, it's interesting how the physical distance has given me critical distance to reflect and fashion a response to all that's happening. The time difference means I literally get to "sleep on it" and wake up in the morning a bit removed from the raw emotion.
A word about that: there is a difference between reacting and responding. Reactions are the words and actions that come immediately out of an emotional, psychological, physical stimulus. It's instinctual and it just happens without any thought. Habitual reaction to life around us is potential dangerous, as Charlottesville is showing us.
Responding is different. It examines the thoughts and feelings we're having, and fashions words and actions that consider the whole context. Responses often get a point across; they seem rational. Reactions are the exact opposite.
One isn't necessarily better over the other. It really boils down to what's in the human heart: what one values. Jesus said as much in the gospels: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Values and one's heart are found intertwined. Your reactions and responses will be just as twisted if your values and your heart are as well.
The other thing about reactions is that once the thought or emotion has passed, so does the action. Responses tend to lead to committed, sustained action.
But I think the benefit of responding is that it disciplines just to reflection, and that reflection is to challenge the assumptions we do hold in our heart that create convenient little blind spots for us. You know, things like "racists are bad, but you have to consider the liberal communists are just as bad too." Or deftly trying to separate oneself from white supremacists upon the argument "that's not what conservative politics are about." The rally, by the way, was called, "Unite the Right", so I find that kind of hard to do.
However, my challenge to respond goes out to my liberal, white – yes white – colleagues. There are a lot of ad hoc rallies and prayer vigils being held, and that is great. But that is reacting. My fear is people will stop their action at that, and maybe commit a few conversations months from now. Within my own spheres, it's great that clergy and others got involved, marching, attending prayer and worship rallies in conjunction with "Unite the Right." It's great my social media is blowing up with all sorts of pictures from the event and posts about sermons preached, follow on rallies and vigils attended, scripture passages and inspirational quotes. I'm glad you felt compelled to react. But I can't help but think, "What took you so long?" because it's not like this hasn't been happening elsewhere, and for quite awhile.
Think about how you will respond: you need to get off the sidelines and into the game, long-term.
I say this because as an Asian-American, transracial adoptee, I've had to walk that journey. It was hard, I resisted, but in the end I'm thankful I when though the process of responding. For too long, like many Asian-Americans, I've pretended there isn't a problem with racism, nationalism, and hatred in this country. Life and a vocation change forced me to think, and to get off the sidelines myself. Let me say this: not only did that journey lead to a better response in the face of injustice, hatred, and prejudice, but it also made my reactions much healthier and more rational.
Charlottesville showed us that hatred and violence associated with racial superiority has no boundary – it can and will touch all of us. Ironically, it took white on white violence to get a large amount of people into the game.
Will it do the same for you? How will you respond?
PS: I know this isn't easy. Everyone has their own timeline and pace…trust me, so did I. So know I certainly love you regardless of what pace you're at or if you care to give it a go at all….I just hope beyond my own cynicism and doubt you'll find the courage to respond.