Remember the occupation earlier this year of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge building in Oregon by the Bundy brothers and friends? They had come to the rescue (in their opinion) of locals who had been convicted of burning forest land and were protesting. They saw these rural Oregonians as fellow victims of the federal lands policies — policies that deny them free use of public lands. They were not welcomed by most locals who preferred to handle the situation in their own way and resented outside interference.
Not long after Malheur, the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline project began at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Thousands of sympathizers, Indian and non-Indian, flocked to the encampment to ally with the Sioux. The Standing Rock Chairman expressed thanks to all who are raising their voices with the Sioux against the actions of the pipeline company and what they see as the complicity of the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for permitting the route under the Missouri River just upstream of the tribe.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read Glenn Beck’s recent commentary in the New York Times. “The only way for our society to work is for each of us to respect the views of others, and even try to understand and empathize with one another,” he wrote. He took the words right out of my mouth. I nodded vigorously again as I read on. Grassroots movements, including the Tea Party, Bernie Sanders’ followers, Occupy Wall Street and others, he said, share the same feelings of not being heard, of not belonging, of having no control over their future.
So where did this revelation come from, I wondered? He explains that following the shooting of the five police officers in Dallas, he saw the parents of the gunman interviewed and was struck with their grief “as parents, as Americans and as human beings.” He invited several Black Lives Matter activists on his radio show and got to know them on and off air, he says, and found them to be decent, hardworking, patriotic people. Although he disagrees with them on many things, including politics, he says, “are we not more than politics?” Good for Glenn. He took the initiative and reached out to listen and learn.
He goes on to say, “We are a country in trouble and we have only one way out: reconciliation. We must follow the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and method and move away from a pursuit of ‘winning’ and toward reclaiming our shared humanity…cultivating empathy for one another, in our communities and in the news media, …and in our politics. [This] is the path we must choose as nation. If we don’t, what we have seen this year will be just the beginning of the hate we are about to unleash.”
I couldn’t agree more with my new strange bedfellow, and I am excited (perhaps a poor choice of words in this context) to hear my dearly held sentiments coming from such an unexpected place. But this in itself is interesting. I realize that I expect to hear what I believe from those like me. I expect those that aren’t like me to say something contradictory. I expect that only liberal, progressive, bleeding-heart, peace-seeking folk like myself will expound on empathy and reconciliation.
But Glenn shows me that this concept that we are all human beings and need to show each other respect and empathy is not exclusive to me and my kind. He and I are polar opposites on so many social, economic and political issues of the day, and yet there he is, standing with me, defending my most fundamental belief. This means that there be many more of these believers out there in places I never dreamed of exploring. And it means that I have been a real isolationist when I didn’t need to be. If people who disagree on all kinds of issues can at least commit to respect and empathy….wow, there may be hope!
And so, Glenn and I, together, urge our friends, neighbors, countrymen and leaders to reach across that aisle, that backyard fence, that workplace cubicle – whatever separates you from the other – and offer a little respect and empathy and see what happens.