Quenching a thirst

I’m a huge movie fan and an even bigger movie quoter.  I can recite Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail nearly word for word.

But I’m not that guy going around saying “May the Force be with you” or “I’ll be back.” For the most part, I quote lines that just hit me in the face or the funny bone.  A good example is my favorite quote from White Men Can’t Jump.  Gloria, played by Rosie Perez, tells Woody Harrelson’s character Billy she’s thirsty.  Billy gets out of bed and brings her a glass of water.  She becomes angry:

“If I’m thirsty. I don’t want a glass of water, I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, ‘Gloria, I too know what it feels like to be thirsty. I too have had a dry mouth.’ I want you to connect with me through sharing and understanding the concept of dry mouthedness.”

I constantly quote this to my wife in my worst Rosie Perez accent.  It’s funny, because we all go through it.  Be honest–sometimes you want help finding a solution to your problem.  Sometimes you just want someone to listen to you vent, someone who understands what you’re going through.  Someone like Oprah.

And right now, the country is Lindsay Lohan.  We have a national incident, we check into rehab, check ourselves out early, and wind up sitting on Oprah’s couch, venting our frustrations on national television before claiming we’re cured.  Nine months after Eric Garner’s death, everything I said in my January blog “The definition of insanity” continues. While the names and locations change, the “real” conversations remain the same.  We blame race, police militarization, poverty, crime, drugs, the lack of jobs, the lack of parents, the lack of body cameras.  And now, it seems we lack sanity. After Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, the pundits began some unusual straw-grabbing.  MSNBC’s Chris Mathews blamed “right to work” states.  Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani blamed “decades of liberal leaders” like former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.  Others blamed O’Malley for acting like Giuliani.

But as I said before, I blame all of us for this.  We refuse to talk about the pressures we put on law enforcement, and the pressures put on low-income communities.  Just look at some of the comments on your Facebook feed :


Again, as with Garner and Michael Brown, we let our emotions blind our logic.  And while posting these may help you vent your frustrations, my guess is we won’t solve world peace or race relations with a Facebook debate.  Baltimore police commissioner Anthony Batts believes he knows where to start.  “We have to find inroads to sit down with people — to show care, to show empathy.”

Unfortunately, I believe our country suffers from EDD.  Now, don’t confuse it with ED, or erectile dysfunction.  It’s similar in that we can’t get or maintain something, but that something is the notion someone else thinks, feels, or believes differently than we do.  EDD is Empathy Deficit Disorder.  Director of the Center for Progressive Development Douglas LaBier coined the term in this 2010 commentary.  Pardon the pun, but it isn’t hard…to see.

First Lady Michelle Obama gave the commencement speech at traditionally black Tuskegee University earlier this month. She spoke about her personal experiences as an African-American to a crowd of African-Americans.  Of course, several people weighed in with comments like “victimization” and “race card.”  President Barack Obama tried empathizing when he said “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”  While many, especially African Americans, called the speech “monumental” and “historic,” others called him “Racist in Chief.”  After the murders of two New York City police officers earlier this year, Mayor Bill De Blasio reached out by candidly talking about how he teaches his biracial son to interact with law enforcement.  And police officers turned their backs not only on him, but the real conversation.


You see, I believe Freddie Gray’s spirit broke BEFORE his spine did.  I’m not trying to channel President Clinton when he said he wanted to give people a hand up instead of a handout.  Sometimes you need a handout.  And sometimes you need a HAND OUT.

Helping Hands Card Front

And that hand out is the realization it doesn’t matter how you feel but how the other person feels. Think about it.  The people the Obamas and De Blasio tried to connect with don’t care what us white people think.  They feel victimized.  They want to know the Obamas went through what they are going through and still made it to the White House.  Those snide comments and memes on Facebook about rioting and committing crimes shut down the conversation.  The conversation starts when the white mayor of a major U.S. city admits he talks to his biracial son about law enforcement the same way minorities do with their sons.

It doesn’t just apply to race.  If you work three jobs and barely make enough to feed your family, do you listen to people with money claiming you can get ahead if you “work hard and play by the rules?”  When you’re unemployed, how does it feel to hear someone talk about all the jobs people could get if they weren’t so “lazy.”  You can’t fix welfare if the conversation-starts by calling the people on it “freeloaders” and leeches.”  A real debate starts by questioning yourself before you question others.  A real conversation begins when you want to listen just as much as you want to speak.  Change occurs when you attempt to understand and empathize BEFORE listing the problems and possible solutions.  Sometimes you thirst for water.  And sometimes you thirst for the knowledge others thirst too.

Once we realize that, the real conversation begins.  Then, to quote Junior from the same movie above, “We goin’ Sizzler!  We goin’ Sizzler!”


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