Years ago, I took my young kids to a new park for an outing. The playground had lots of new equipment, a thick layer of spongy chips underneath, and participation signs posted everywhere that gave explicit instructions on how to play there. My oldest daughter — too old for the playground — wandered around reading the signs — and laughing. “Mom, this one on the slide says, ‘Do not push others off the slide.’” “Mom, this swing sign says, ‘Stop swinging before exiting.’” “Mom, that sign says, ‘Running may cause tripping.’” And then she summarized all the signs, “Well, no kidding!”
We talked about the signs. She wondered why people had to be so specifically instructed. I explained some people might not know how to properly participate. Her response was, “But these are just so obvious.” She was right, of course.
I like to assume most people know how to appropriately participate with others. In fact, I believe they do. But some of the protests staged throughout this country in the past couple of weeks prove not everyone knows how to work together — nor do some seem interested in trying.
It makes me wonder what my young daughter would think of a set of “No kidding!” participation rules for the current circumstances:
Gathering and protesting to make your voice heard is a Constitutional right, as long as it’s done “peaceably,” per the First Amendment. Rioting and looting to make your voice heard is not a Constitutional right, and looks a lot more like opportunistic thievery than sincere objection.
Throwing frozen water bottles, large rocks or flaming bottles of alcohol at people is not okay, nor is using anger as an excuse to hurt and destroy and steal.
Turning a protest into a barbecue where both sides sit down together to learn and create solutions is a good idea.
Allowing illegal activities that trash an entire city and then asking for government help to repair it is not okay. Destroying statues, burning police cars, defacing property and spray painting monuments to get attention is also not okay.
Making a sincere effort to understand someone’s opinion different from your own is good. Identifying what is wrong with the present system is good. Changing what is wrong with the present system is good. Respectful disagreement is essential to finding solutions.
Stereotyping or discriminating by race or profession is not okay.
Acknowledging that most law enforcement officers and most people of every color want the same kind of peace in their lives is essential to any progress.
Politicizing this moment with absurd accusations or photo ops or irrational demands derails efforts to sit down together to create solutions.
Pretending nothing is wrong is not OK.
Every one of these “No kidding” rules, in a calmer setting, would make us shake our heads and say, “Well, of course.” But the emotions of this moment have driven some of us to forget the basic truth that this planet is our only home, we are still collectively united against a common pandemic enemy and we are all we’ve got. We definitely have some serious societal problems to solve. But solutions — good, lasting solutions — are never made in frenetic moments such as these. That truth will play out in the coming months as we watch the foundationless solutions being tossed together right now fail and fall.
When we finally lay down our anger, take a deep breath and choose to come together for the common good of us all, then true, lasting solutions will be discovered. President Abraham Lincoln, a great leader who ultimately gave his life in defense of his belief that all lives matter, taught it best: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”