Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Training the Heart

Let's take another road for a moment. The heart of the Bible is not just about one "issue" but about every aspect of our lives in family and society. There has been a lot of controversy about the deaths of unarmed black people (and other minorities) at the hands of police at a much higher rate than whites. While you and I might disagree about the nature or existence of the problem, I think I can explain the internal processes at the heart of the conflict and propose a heart-centered approach to developing a Godly view of the situation.

How Interracial Conflict Works on The Non-Racist

Let's be clear about how race is most often at play in instances of unnecessary death of those of minorities: there are not a lot of racist police officers. Most of those who kill unarmed people of other races do their best on an everyday basis to treat everyone the same. It just so happens that the people they are encountering are not "like me" in some very visible way. Enculturation into our national (and world) societies teaches us to sort by race, which our minds perceive as sorting by family or tribe.

This causes a racialization effect on a societal level and has the effect of infrahumanization on an individual level. Infrahumanization causes our subconscious minds to weigh the thoughts and feelings of the members of "outside" groups as if those people were enemies; it makes us perceive them as having feelings of less intense quality and prompts us to give more weight to guilt than innocence. Infrahumanization also has a distancing effect that protects us from the full effects of empathy when people outside the boundaries of "us" experience pain (which I think is the primary psychological purpose for the effect, with potentially violent tribal interactions as a close second). When there is a large majority of society experiencing the effects of infrahumanization, the society experiences a racialization effect: discrimination by society as a whole that does not have its roots in individual racism per se.

I would be very surprised if the officers involved in this and most of the other instances were acting out of conscious racism, they just did not see the people they were shooting as fully human due to a psychological mechanism of which they were unaware. There are few likely routes to diminish the problem on the individual level; the set is too large. The effects of racialization --the societal and police-force level effects-- however, can be combated by updating field procedures to favor non-lethal responses and to update training to bypass the instinctive prejudicial response caused by infrahumanization. Indeed, the effect has been "pre-judicial" action, allowing police action to bypass the judiciary entirely and execute the untried.

Christian Disciplines of the Heart

A heart-centered spiritual discipline that will help us approach our own infrahumanization processes would ask us to set aside a period of time to go over the stories from the past several years. Look at the pictures of the people killed and imagine each one as a child we love with all our hearts. Love those dead children like they are your own and then ask "did they do enough to protect my child?" Ask yourself, "What lengths do I want the police to go to to protect my children?" Then ask yourself about the police officers, "If this officer was my child, and he (I don't remember any fatal shootings by women in this mess) killed this child I love, would I be proud of him? Would I be able to look him in the eye and say, 'you did everything you could to protect your brother and sister?'" Ask "what training and tools could this child who is a police officer have that would save my suspect son without getting the officer killed too?"

When you have done that, if you cannot imagine a better way, I will entertain your negative comments and your support of the current state of the system.

If not, then join the rest of us: flood the community with ideas. Shout from the rooftops. Write every political figure you dare. Weep and pray and scream out loud out to God for justice and protection for the children he loves, in public and in private, day and night, because these are your children, they are my children, they are his children.