These days I know that I am not alone in almost daily horror at the anger, violence and outright hatred that certain politicians are stirring up within pockets of American life. I hear myself and others wondering out loud: have we really stooped to this? Have we been covering up beds of hatred all this time? How can Americans treat other Americans like this?
Recently, a friend shared a story on social media which brought me to another place. It was a story of human compassion for other human beings that left me wondering if it weren’t just too good to be true. At the same time, it is the kind of human thought and action that move awe and wonder in my heart and give me hope for the future of human beings on this planet. I did a little research. The story is true.
In 1831 the Choctaw people were forced out of Mississippi and onto the Trail of Tears landing them, eventually, in Oklahoma on a federally created reservation. Like all Native Peoples, they suffered untold loss of life, of land and resources, and of their ability to maintain their way of life, language and culture. They suffered deeply, and they faced near annihilation as a people. In 1847, the Choctaws learned of what was happening to the Irish people at the hands of the British in Ireland. While there were plenty of vegetable crops being raised in Ireland by the Irish themselves, all vegetables except for potatoes were required by the British to be exported. Then, disease hit the potato crop, and the Irish entered in to poverty and starvation, a suffering on top of the oppression they had suffered for centuries by their oppressors. On learning of their starvation, the Choctaws of Oklahoma raised 170.00 and sent it to Ireland to aid them in their suffering.*
Needless to say, 170.00 did not change the course of the deep suffering of the Irish people. But, 170.00 allowed one group of human beings to reach out from their own suffering and acknowledge the suffering of others. To this day, the Choctaw Nation holds this story as an example of their deepest values.
In the political ball game for identifying American values, perhaps we start here: with the commemoration of how we (individuals, families, ethnic and religious groups) have suffered and allow that memory to foster compassion for others who are suffering. As is clear from the scenes these days, we can start with our suffering and fan it into anger. That temptation is understandable. It’s cheap and easy. Anyone can do it. Its outcome is always destructive. The awe and wonder of being human is our capacity to reach from wound out to other wounded and build community. I vote for that.
* Read the story on the Choctaw Nation website here.