This article is mostly about reducing hatred and the misery it causes in America, but in the background is the rest of the world, which I mention because of what it and America now have in common. We and many other countries now stand on a precipice. At the bottom is the hellish existence we all face if we don’t solve several terrible problems we share including global warming, poverty, the decline of mental health, and hatred and its associates racism and anti-semitism. These problems will be solved more easily if all countries collaborate to share ideas and to help each other.
While current U.S. leadership thinks being a loner makes America great, the world is now so small that other countries seem to live just down the block. We need to get busy, with or without presidential help, rekindling old friendships with other countries and repairing strained relationships with them so we can make our efforts at home to stop hatred also become worldwide efforts to stop it. Many cities outside our country are protesting the murder of George Floyd, watching how we handle this moment, and I think rooting for us to find ways to solve these problems.
Our next step here however must be to arrest the officers who did not try to stop the murder. I hope that’s happened by the time this is published. This doesn’t mean they’re guilty and is not a trial. But doing nothing will only incite further protests which may cause more destruction, or cause our unstable president to again make matters worse by intimidating, offending, and harming protesters with absurdly inappropriate military might.
Next, we all need to see and hear serious talk followed by immediate action, about police reform and about equality for all in this country. The president should stay out of it since his only interest as everyone knows is in getting elected again.
There must be ongoing clear communication with the public about how the case is proceeding including plans for a trial, what plans have already been discussed on changing policing, and what else is in the works now to show we’re serious about laws and reforms that will stop this terrible cancer in our culture. The point is the people need to see action now.
To accomplish what must be the immediate raising up of all who are downtrodden here (now an emergency of the highest order) we need not just the help of government leaders but also business leaders. On CNN this past week Martin Luther King III called at one point for large businesses to help. I agree, because with some thought and effort they can help provide or at least encourage creation of more jobs, higher minimum wage, a racism-free work atmosphere, funding for media campaigns that encourage the same, and more. All businesses need to strive to do this, but Big Business’s big money does talk and can get big things done.
Also critical is the need for better laws at federal, state, and local levels, which must include a strong focus on safe and fair voting, ethically-run elections, much more support for the poor, homeless, unemployed and underemployed, fairness, justice, equal opportunity, and elimination of hunger and homelessness. If all this change requires giving checks to everyone below a certain income, that’s what we need to do (see Annie Lowrey’s book Give People Money).
Our government, business leaders, and educational and research institutions all need to support decent housing and ways to provide more healthy food, including eliminating food deserts and repairing and beautifying now-downtrodden neighborhoods, adding to them healing nature with trees and parks, and adding a sense of safe community by helping business owners open stores and establish cafes, coffee shops, etc. that include outdoor seating. All American cities need more of those amenities that add nature and a place to meet and feel community, because researchers say we are chronically nature-starved and too isolated socially for the most part. But poor communities often have not one of these benefits, and the resulting atmosphere adds to their feelings of hopelessness.
Mayors of cities have already banked up a lot of wisdom, and often have to come up with solutions to big problems with no outside help. Both singly and together with other mayors they’ve been wonderfully innovative. In this case we need them to assure citizens first that there will be immediate police reform, and then to help secure the requirements such as better pay and more food that are mentioned above. Governors hopefully will also help with these changes throughout their states. When federal leadership is lacking, governors and mayors have shown they get a great deal done by helping each other, so we can hope that will continue at least until there is a competent president again.
Chiefs of police are clearly also important in this process, and besides being good leaders of the force must be also humanitarian leaders, and teachers in the community. One critical task they have now is to stop allowing people to become police officers who were once playground bullies, or who ever showed the slightest indication of a bent toward cruelty, sadism, or obsession with weapons, or showed any other psychopathology.
Psychologists who understand police work, then, need to be hired to develop tests and interviews that reveal such personalities, so they are not hired. Once officers are cleared and hired, they should be required to sign contracts that.pledge to respect and treat humanely every individual they encounter. They need to be coached in helping to reduce racism and hatred in their communities, and informed that any actions or comments to the contrary will not be tolerated. Oversight and laws will probably be needed to ensure that these changes are made and adhered to.
The media and ad agencies can help us reach an entire swath of people who are prejudiced in many different ways and for many reasons. Some hate anyone not white, others hate Jews, the list goes on. They’re out there and we’ll probably never know how many there are, but the idea is to reach them and try to help them see why it’s best for everyone including them not to continue this way. This requires educating people wherever possible, not just in school and at home but in workplaces, on TV with messages and shows suitable for both kids and adults, and on billboards, posters, and signs in front of homes as we already see now in some places.
I’ve always believed, perhaps being too much of an optimist, that civilization would finally evolve, becoming kind, empathetic, and wise. Here and there there’s been a glimmer of hope, but given our problems now, that’s not enough. The time to evolve is here. It’s too late for a slow change because this is an emergency. I believe we can do it, and the rest of the world might just follow.
Let the murder of George Floyd help carry us to that new place we should have gotten to long before now. In this new evolved era we’ll need to understand that to stop hate, nothing is likely to work as well as the power of kindness and empathy. Many of us don’t think about these concepts often, so the concepts might have to be taught, and then practiced. Still, good laws will be needed as backup to protect the rights of all during those times when some forget to practice this new ethic of kindness.
Many cynics, or other people who somehow enjoy feeling prejudice, may sneer at the idea of kindness, empathy, and generosity being the norm, and the accepted way to work, govern, and live. Let them. Then remind them that the alternative is further disintegration into the tragic morass in which we now find ourselves. Explain that we all need people to recognize that hate and fear of others gets in the way of happiness for everyone, and often causes much of the harm and suffering in our world.
Teachers in our schools can help deliver this message by promoting kindness and empathy in the classroom and on the playground. They can stop bullies immediately, and then teach them why that behavior is so bad for them and for the world. If the children are bullied at home they need to be counseled and helped. There should be school psychologists available who can help detect whether there is abuse at home or in the child’s neighborhood.
Although many have tried unsuccessfully in the past, each of us needs to continue to encourage and model that because someone’s color or religion is different there is no need to fear or hate them, and that we can all be friends, and benefit a great deal from the friendship. It needs to be a ubiquitous message, at least until there is change. We need to emphasize that friends are important, and that it’s wonderful to have many of all kinds because the mental health boost given us by having such a supportive community is said by researchers to make us happier and even more physically healthy. More happy people seem likely to help to make the world a happier, less violent place. We need to get across that being together as one people is actually possible, and is much better for us than division and hate. Children need to get this message too, early and often.
To further encourage this togetherness, I can report that rapper Killer Mike, asked by Stephen Colbert on his show what else we all can do to help, requested that we donate to and/or volunteer to work with one or more of the many grassroots organizations trying to help African Americans in many cities, such as Movement for Black Lives, and commit to doing this for some time.
I’ve mentioned ad experts and the media. They can help by crafting and showing messages and PSAs that remind us that treating others kindly is no longer just a nice thing but is essential, and that not getting to know those who are different out of fear and old hatreds makes our lives much duller and surely less joyful. I’m no ad expert but here are some of my (rough) ideas for marketing slogans, which I imagine might have some good art to accompany them: “Love people. Most of us are really cool,” or “Love. It feels so much better than hate,” or “Most people are fascinating. Don’t hate them. Get to know them!” And there’s an older one that’s still good: “Live and Let Live,” or another version of it I came up with: “Live and Help Others Live.”
A nationwide deep apology is also now called for, and it should come from every business and government leader.
We can do this. The wrongs that have been done are clear. If we can’t make this cultural shift toward changing from hate to love, then the tyranny and suffering will continue. If we can’t manage to turn toward kindness as the American way of life, we are not only pathetic, we are lost.