There is a spiritual solution for everything—even for the controversy that came up in the National Football League this past weekend.
The dispute started last year when professional football player Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem before the start of the games. He did so because he believes there have been unjustified police shootings of citizens in minority communities across the nation. Until this past Friday, only nine NFL players out of approximately 1,700 had joined Mr. Kaepernick in this silent protest.
Then the President of the United States willingly, enthusiastically and crudely weighed in by saying these players should be fired. His remarks stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy, so that this past Sunday, hundreds of players knelt or locked arms in support of Kaepernick’s cause. A rift opened between those who believe the players’ protests disrespect the American flag (as well as the soldiers who died to preserve what the flag represents) and the players who knelt and believe they are exercising their right to free speech—a right American troops have died to protect.
I have conducted memorial services for veterans. I’ve observed military representatives handing the American flag to the deceased’s spouse, child or loved one. I realize the flag means a great deal to them.
The right these servicemen and servicewomen died for was appropriately used by Mr. Kaepernick and the players who followed his lead in order to bring to public’s attention their cause. But those who have been weighing in with concerns of disrespect for the flag are seeing the issue through their own lens. Thus, their perception is true and right for them. Based on news reports, it appears there is an irreparable divide between the two groups.
But is there really?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, has said, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of separation.” The sense of separation over this disagreement, as well as other issues in this country and our world, has been latent for a long time. As we grow spiritually, we realize we are here to rise up and break down that illusion.
How can we begin to do this?
In his Peace Prayer, St. Francis says we should not so much seek “to be understood as to understand.” He is suggesting that we, at least temporarily, get off our position on an issue and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. This means that we have to listen to one another and engage in meaningful conversation.
It is important for those who take a knee to hear that their peaceful, lawful demonstration may lead to a painful response from someone who’s had a husband, wife, son or daughter killed in military combat. At the same time, those who experience that pain ought to think about the grief that Kaepernick and others experience over someone who has lost a child or loved one who was unfairly shot and killed.
Both have a point. So to bridge—or better yet break down—this illusion of separation that has been created by our surface mind, it is important to take Saint Francis’ counsel and attempt to understand as well as seek to be understood. When we can appreciate both perspectives, we can still have our beliefs without getting entrenched in a zero-sum game of “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
If we are to have peace on the planet, we have to be willing to resolve our sense of separation on the issues that arise at a local level. If we cannot do this, we cannot expect peace between nations on a global scale. The work begins with you and me.
As the song we sing each Sunday reminds us, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” The controversy that has erupted over kneeling during the national anthem by NFL players and supporters gives us the opportunity to demonstrate how peace can happen.
Let us seek to understand as well as to be understood.
Peace and Blessings,