There is a time for conversation, persuasion, even defiantly standing up for your beliefs. But sometimes, the healthiest and most helpful thing to do is to know when to sit this one out. Refusing to engage in a futile protest and ratchet up the heat is a first step toward fixing the mess in which we now find ourselves. To move forward and repair our fractured society, we must be willing to not fight fire with fire.
I’m still digesting the events of January 6th, but one thing sticks out to me that I can’t shake, one thing that could have made what began as a protest much bloodier, much more catastrophically damaging and heartbreaking for our country: there could have been a counter-protest.
As a former resident of Washington, DC for 11 years, I can tell you that protests and counter protests are part of that city’s weekly routine. Yet, in the weeks and days leading up to the ceremonial electoral college count, my inbox contained emails from bishops urging their parishioners to stay home and pray instead. In my new home many miles from the nation’s capital, inter-faith leaders not only joined regularly to pray for peace, but they also monitored the potential for violence in their state and discussed how to respond. People took responsibility for changing the tenor of the conversation, as much as it was in their power to do so.
All year long, we’ve seen Americans stand toe-to-toe across from each other, disagreeing about racial injustice, law enforcement actions, masks and other COVID-19 restrictions, and elections. From Portland, Oregon to Kenosha, Wisconsin, this year has been bursting with competing protests. You name it, we probably argued about it in 2020. There have been pockets of violence across the country and tempers have been running high for months. And yet yesterday, in the face of thousands coming to Washington, DC, the angry mob confronted nearly no resistance from the opposing side.
In some cases, I’m sure it was fear that kept people home. But I expect that, in other cases, the reason was a virtue that has gone a bit out of style in our political conversations: judgement.
We can condemn what happened. We can hold people responsible. We can take appropriate legal action. But we should resist the urge to harden ourselves against our ideological opposites or argue with them angrily to make ourselves feel righteous.
Yesterday, some people stayed home. And to them I say, “Thank you for exercising judgment.”
Photo by lazyllama on Adobe Stock