“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
Like many of you, I recently saw the movie Just Mercy, a telling story of the first major death penalty case taken by young lawyer Bryan Stevenson. I was genuinely happy to see this message of humanization and reconciliation with the effects of our nation’s troubled history on the big screen.
What struck me the most, however, wasn’t the film itself, but rather the comments made by my fellow moviegoers after it ended. As might be expected for a late night showing on a discount Tuesday, the theater was largely filled with students and young adults—there was a constant chorus of muted exasperations and “oh my gosh” as the depictions of racism and injustice flashed across the screen. As the film powerfully closed and the credits began to roll, I began to pick up on bits of conversations around me, many expressing their disbelief and surprise that such injustice could happen in our time. I won’t quote any of these verbatim, but if I could use one word to describe the theme of these exchanges, it would be “ignorance.”
Now, I’m not trying to proclaim my “wokeness” or anything like that, but I found these comments to be unsettling. Without wading too deep into the issue of privilege and race, I will put forward the idea that the responsibility is on each of us to be cognizant of the issues and injustices that plague our society—and there are many. We may not see them, or even be aware of them, but many of these injustices stem from our class and standing in society, including our race. The first step to correcting this involves a certain degree of introspection that includes an honest look at how one’s upbringing and life events have contributed to the shaping of their political beliefs and attitudes. This means challenging instantaneous emotional reactions with questions like “why do I feel this way about the poor and homeless?” “What event or circumstance in my life could cause me to hold this belief about racial injustice?” “Why do I feel the way I do about ‘moral decency’ in politics?”
As noted above, it was Aristotle who said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I hold that coming to know yourself is one of the most worthwhile endeavors that one can undertake, it also being a lifelong one. Once we begin to understand where our potential biases and prejudices originate, we can start to dismantle them, allowing us to better empathize with and understand one another. If we can start to progress in this direction, maybe then we can really start to effectively tackle greater issues like mass partisanship, racial injustice, and the environment.
Thanks for reading,
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