Group and Social Change happens in a clear process: 1. form, 2. storm, 3. norm and 4. perform. Some storming processes are more brutal than others and some can be done with humor and even grace. The best change happens with a process of empathy, emotional regulation, alignment of common human beliefs, an offer to help and walk beside those in fear and anger, and an invitation to facilitate dialogue.
There are two methods of storming that have two very distinct outcomes. Riots cause death and destruction of property. Dialogue creates a newfound vision for a better future for all of humanity.
1. Crowd/Group Riots: Some of the worst riots in history including the George Floyd riots have led to the death of 100s of individuals, police officers, resignations, job loss, deaths and unconscionable emotional upset. Such examples include the 1992 Rodney King Race Riot, 1967 nationwide riots in most major US cities that led to over 100 deaths, and the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr which were as widespread and deadly.
What can we learn from rioting behavior? Are there leaders who have taught us in history how to turn violence into opportunity? The second form of storming can happen when we introduce a different way of interacting without violence.
2. Dialogue. On April 4, 1968, on the eve of Martin Luther King assassination, despite concerns for his safety, Robert F. Kennedy gave an impassioned speech to call for dialogue instead of violence to a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis, IN. RFK invited compassion instead of violence, eloquently communicating the pain he felt when his brother, too, was killed by a white man.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.
And, Senator George Mitchell spent several days in Ireland during the Peace Accords, working through the grueling emotional pain of those from North and South Ireland. I spoke with Senator Mitchell back in 1998, and he told me that being with the people, and truly empathizing with their pain and working through the details of the pain is what brought the Ireland Peace Accords to consensus.
There are common denominators to requests for help, be it sexual orientation, race, color, or gender. The common denominator is emotional pain. It is beyond the threshold of pain to be singled out due to our genetics, to be hurt, to be talked down to, to be discarded, to be disrespected.
This kind of behavior dates back in our memories to the schoolyard bully and back in history to the stone aged man dragging “his woman” by the hair. It is not to be tolerated, however, it must not be fought with any other weapon but dialogue, consensus building, empathy, caring, and moving toward a better and more understanding human right. The human right to be seen equal in the eyes of all.