Shortness of Breath

Published: January 31, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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How much anger and rage do five police officers have to have to beat a man to death after being pulled over for a traffic stop?

Watching and listening to Tyre Nichols’s plea for help during a police gang attack in Memphis, Tennessee, the most heart-wrenching moment came when Nichols called out to his mother, twice.

Nichols’s death is another grim reminder of the gut punches to American morality the country continues to suffer with no apparent end in sight.

Mass shootings.

Shortness of breath.

Anger and hostility directed at ethnicity, gender, and cultural and political ideology.

Shortness of breath.

We are locked in a cage match between our better angels and our worst impulses brought about by extremism, lies, distrust, (you fill in the blank); where our moral character continues to be beaten to a bloody pulp; where decency, compassion, and uprightness have become meaningless words.

Like Plato’s allegory of the cave, many have locked themselves inside the darkest part of their hearts believing the shadows of deceit on the wall in front of them, refusing to go into the light of reality; refusing to listen to others; refusing to open themselves to others because of endless suspicion and fear.

How can we reach any understanding when we believe others to be the enemy instead of neighbors; where we can’t even breathe a word about issues that concern us without choosing up sides?

“Compassion,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama posted on Twitter, “is the source of true joy, peace and happiness. It is the foundation of a good heart, the essence of a meaningful life, and the fundamental principle for creating a better world.”

But how do we get to that place when surrounded by so much hate, and violence?

Dale Carnegie, the self-help guru, whose books from the ’30s to the ’60s taught: “It’s possible to change other people’s behavior by changing one’s behavior toward them.”

Listen rather than challenge. Openness over suspicion. Look for common ground. There is always common ground . . . somewhere.

If we can open our minds and listen with a heart of compassion maybe we can begin to breathe, again.


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