A beautiful Arabic proverb teaches us that a vessel only spills that which it contains. If a cup of water falls, it will spill merely that which it holds. Our heart is also a vessel of sorts. If it harbors prejudice and hate, what it divulges is simply a manifestation of what was in it. But if it houses compassion and love, then it will accordingly release what it bears.
We rely on our heart to make the most important decisions of our lives. When we fall in love, kiss our children, smell a rose, or even something as mundane as arranging furniture at home, we tap into the intuitive side of the human self. Nearly every culture of the world emphasizes the centrality of the heart as the barometer to gauge right action. When we see a perceived wrong, it irritates our heart and our collective consciousness becomes injured.
The violent protests that we see on the streets of our country are in response to the violence that we do not see. Years of institutional failure, profiling, and overt racism fail to capture the headlines, and thus the struggles and sacrifices of people go untold. We therefore see the effect and not the underlying cause. Instead of our heart grieving for the local people and their plight, we question their motives, doubt the root sources of their hardship, and belittle their revolt by saying “don’t these people have jobs?”
Perhaps the dehumanization of people is even more painful. It is subtle, faint, and creeps at the consciousness like an ant crawling on a dark rock in the depths of the night. In response to the outrage of the death of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, there are those who divert our attention to the violence on the streets of Chicago, evoking doubt on the precious lives that have been taken. Should we not hold those in authority to a higher standard than street gangs? When Botham Jean was killed in his own living room, the media reported that there was marijuana in the body of Jean, insinuating that a criminal element has been removed. When Jordan Edwards was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a car driving away from officers, it was revealed that Edwards was a model student athlete. Does this mean that if he was a bad student he would have been more disposable? These false narratives permeate our national consciousness, inducing fresh wounds on the loved ones left behind.
The victims of the subject of the protests are the most recent symbols of systemic oppression. It is not necessary to chronicle the blight of the past or the current dangers of jogging while black or getting directions while black. But consider the following: George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, sold his gun that he used for $138,900 on an online auction. Zimmerman did not go to prison for it. But Michael Vick, the African-American football player, went to jail for close to two years for his cruelty to dogs. All of these responses are the byproduct of a corrupt heart that spills the ugliness that it contains.
Our inability to see the good in others is the root source of our malignancy. When I traveled to the villages of India doing research on farmer suicides due to indebtedness to the corporation, a farmer directed my attention to cow manure. He asked me, “can you see the good in this heap of dung?” I immediately retorted “of course not.” He proceeded to explain that the manure is an important source of fertilizer and fuel. A poor uneducated farmer in the deepest recesses of the villages of India taught me a priceless lesson in life. I don’t expect that we all possess hearts that can see the good in cow manure. What I do wish and appeal for is that we at least see the good in each other, for our encounter with the other is perhaps the greatest challenge confronting humanity today.
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Dr. Ali Nizamuddin is an Associate Professor of Political Science at UIS. He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University. Dr. Nizamuddin's area of specialization is international relations with a focus in Asian studies. Nizamuddin’s research interests include international trade, globalization, and the role of multinational corporations in the developing world. He recently published his second book on Multi-National Corporations entitled The Patenting of Life, Limiting Liberty and the Corporate Pursuit of Seeds on the global dominance of the world’s food supply. His articles have been published in several journals including Journal of Pacific Affairs, Asian Journal of Social Science, International Social Science Review and The Encyclopedia of International Political Economy.