For some, this is the best of times. For others, it feels like the worst of times. For the wise, it is one season in the course of history. For others, it feels like an impending eternity of uncertainty. Words such as ‘us’ and ‘them,’ no longer describe diversity, but decree exclusion. Anger has become the overcoat that keeps our raw fear warm.
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, National Humanities Medal winner for her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and a woman of color, offers a more graceful description of our country’s current environment in an interview with Krista Tippett on November 17th.
“Our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. And you may not want to go into that basement, but if you really don’t go into that basement, it’s at your own peril. And I think that whatever you are ignoring is not going to go away. Whatever you’re ignoring is only going to get worse. Whatever you’re ignoring will be there to be reckoned with until you reckon with it. And I think that that’s what we’re called upon to do where we are right now.”
However, we cannot diagnose a problem until we know the history of the problem that we’re trying to resolve. We must go down into our metaphorical basement and not only look at but see the causes and effects of historical injustices and want change. Then we must intentionally add radical empathy to our solution. It is the only thing that can free us from the twin barriers to understanding; guilt and shame.
“Empathy is not pity or sympathy in which you are looking down on someone and feeling sorry for them. With sympathy, you may be looking across at someone and feeling bad for them. However, empathy means getting inside of them, and understanding their reality, and looking at their situation and saying not, “What would I do if I were in their position?” but, “What are they doing? Why are they doing what they’re doing from the perspective of what they have endured?” 
If we can engage in radical empathy, then with all due respect, I can’t want to (I am unable to) believe that how we are behaving now is the best we can do for and with each other. I can’t want to give up on the power of empathy, love, forgiveness, hope and joy. I can’t want to believe the basement is where we must relegate the rest of our history. And I can’t want to believe I am alone believing this.
Until next time, remember,
You are not alone.
You are not your circumstances.
You have everything within you to live a purpose-filled life.