Escalation

I came home last night to images of the riots in Baltimore on the TV.  I wanted to turn around and walk out, so that I could pretend for just a little longer that we lived in a world where situations like this didn’t occur on a regular basis.

It’s sad. Both sides – the police and the communities – are angry and scared and frustrated. The police are asked to go into dangerous situations and deal with unstable people on a daily basis. They never know which encounter may turn violent. They walk a narrow edge of fear and some use dominance to control it. The community members never know the mindset of an officer or what residue his/her previous calls left behind. They never know if an officer may respond too strongly. They too, walk a narrow edge of fear and some are using aggression to vocalize it.

Both sides have a justified mistrust of the other.

And I fear that mistrust will only grow as the escalation continues.

You have a majority of people that are honest and decent. And then you have those – in uniform and out – that take it too far. That respond with a “10” to an offense of a “5.” And those few up the ante for everyone else, especially when the media is happy to stir the pot, much like the teenager at the edge egging on the fight.

In a personal relationship, it’s difficult enough to stop the escalation. To respond with a “4” to your partner’s “5.” We naturally want to rise to occasion and see a softer response as a sign of weakness. But often when the intensity is dialed down by one, the other responds in kind. When one is willing to back down and listen, the real conversation can begin with a focus on understanding rather than blaming and deflection.

Often the partners act against each other when they really have the same goal of a healthy and happy relationship.

That’s hard enough in personal relationships. It’s releasing the ego. It’s being willing to be perceived as weaker and vulnerable. It’s being willing to listen, even if some of the words are uncomfortable.

And it’s even harder in entire communities. When the identity is formed not by one, but by the shared history of an entire group. When being seen as weak can be a death sentence and strength is found in numbers. And it’s hard to listen when the cries of the crowd are in your ears.

Often the groups act against each other when they really have the same goal of a healthy and happy community.

These conversations are happening. In small groups and online. With each incident, I’m hearing more people talking about what can be done to fix the problem rather than focusing on amplifying the problem.

Nobody wants to be the one who shows up with a knife at a gun fight. But maybe we can work to stop the fight from happening at all.

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