I write this post somewhat reluctantly, but I feel compelled to do so because it is such a challenging time for our country. I am not reluctant out of lack of heartbreak for what happened in Minneapolis. The family of George Floyd watched their loved one die at the hands of someone who is supposed to be in a position of trust. It is unacceptable, and wrong on so many levels. My reluctance in writing this post is not because I do not want to speak to the wrong, but rather that I don’t want to jump on a bandwagon and simply repeat what is in the echo chamber. Many authentically want change but some are joining the echo chamber because of peer pressure, I don’t want to be one of the later just offering up platitudes.
With that being said, I feel that there are important lessons that have already been paid for in blood and can be mined from this tragic situation, and I hope it is not too early to begin leaning in and calling them out so we can truly learn from them fully.
Life and Death in the Arena
Throughout history, there have been forks in the road at major intersections of society. The road that needs to be taken often hangs precariously in the balance based on the moral or immoral ground on which a culture or society stands. My wife shared with our kids the story of Saint Telemachus (also Almachus or Almachius) who was a monk during the Roman era. This was the time of the gladiators and the blood lust of the Roman arena. Saint Telemachus went to Rome because he knew the error of what was occurring in the arena. He knew how the moral corruption of the arena and gladiators was causing their society to decay, how it impacted families, their spiritual well-being, and even their economy.
Saint Telemachus ran into the arena to stop the event and to convince others that what they were doing was wrong and how it was harming all of them due to the normalization of damaging systemic beliefs in their society. Unfortunately, he was stoned to death by the crowd. But his courage was not for naught – it began a catalytic movement that made people see things differently. What looked like a needless waste of life was the beginning of the end of the arena, and therefore its impacts on their society. It took one person standing on the right moral ground to help influence the masses and the whole of society to turn and choose a different path.
There are many things to be learned from George Floyd’s death. Incredibly important issues like systemic racism, police brutality, and the resulting fears caused by both are being placed center stage, as if beckoning us to make our choice – as individuals and as a society.
While these are being forcibly and necessarily brought to the forefront, we would be sorely remiss to neglect the greater decision lying before us. How do we get to a better place as a country, much like Rome during the time of the gladiators? What is it that we need to be awakened to?
There were two potential paths for the Romans in the wake of Saint Telemachus’ death: continuing in what was most familiar or choosing a new and better path. I believe we are at a similar fork in the road.
Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
Dr. Lee Thayer taught me an important paradigm called meaning management. To decipher choices, and the paths laid before us, we must call things by their proper name to begin.
We must call rioting and looting what they are as nothing good will come from those actions. It is important we agree on that, as chaos and anarchy will never be a solid foundation for our nation and for good change: a house divided against itself will undoubtedly fall. Many of those who are participating in and backing violent protests may believe that it is better for our society and systems to burn down and be replaced with something else. They have no purpose or desire to see George Floyd’s death lead to something better. The ashes are their aim and their end.
By the same token, without a common cause, it is impossible for any entity, nation, or society to stand. The greater cause from George Floyd’s death that deserves our focus is much clearer: every individual is embodied with certain rights and should be given equal opportunity to have life, to have liberty, and to pursue happiness. These are the ideals upon which our country was founded. Without unity in this cause we are nothing. We are not who we claim to be.
Undoubtedly, however, there have been many times we, as a nation, have not lived up to those ideals. This must be fearlessly named as well. But the reason that it feels like such an aberration when we fall short is because there has never been an ideological system that has produced so much good. The evil of injustice would not be highlighted without the light of justice by which to compare. Regardless of the aberration, we must not burn it all down in the name of destroying the bad, because with it will go the good. We must not give in and give up because of the ruthless and evil actions of some, but we must overtake those actions with the greater force of good on which we stand.
Leadership is a lot like that. As leaders, we hold up these ideals and some days we fall short. And then, we pick ourselves back up, admit where we are wrong, and start working again towards those ideals. This is the path forward.
Beauty from Ashes
During this crisis, I’ve seen beautiful things rising from the ashes, like community members showing up to clean up the aftermath of the riots, like cops taking off their police gear to walk as citizens of every color and creed, standing for justice alongside their neighbors. I have also seen the injustice of murder, the abuse of power, the unveiling of wrong motives and privileged thinking.
Call all these things as what they are. When we can no longer call things by their proper name, we are dancing to someone else’s tune. Many will attempt to utilize this time to bend the narrative to fit their meaning, which only adds to the chaos. There is good and there is evil. Evil is always in favor of chaos.
I may well be the monk running into the middle of the arena saying, “This is not right, please stop!” But I do believe the paths have been laid out before us.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” has been put up on signs and it paints the picture of the horrifying way George Floyd died.
In Philippians 4:13, Paul the apostle reminded us that "we can do all things through Christ.” It starts with us, with our frame of mind, with what we endeavor to make right in this world. We must tap into something bigger than ourselves to rightly do that. We can.
There are two roads before us now: one that leads to greater freedom for all who call America home and another road that descends to anarchy, chaos, and a more oppressive society – the opposite of what should come out of George Floyd’s wrongful death. Let us choose the right path.
Pray for our country, pray for George Floyd’s family, and pray for all those who have been harmed during the violence these past several days. I pray we each use our influence for the right road to be taken so we still have a place called America in which we can pursue our greatest cause and purpose as free individuals.
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