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Friday, March 4, 2011

A Frank Letter to a Friend Recently Fired

(This letter assumes a longtime acquaintance exists.  In fact it does not.)  It was with sadness that I heard today you lost your job as an administrator in our city.  I have watched your career for many years, and yes I have been sometimes jealous of your high positions.  But when a person loses their job against their wishes, it is especially tough sometimes for those who have been most successful.  I remembered when we first met.  We needed each other then, for both of us wanted to make brotherhood of races work.  I never will forget that when we went places together, you seemed to know people wherever we went.  It was this time together in the early years that made me grow to love you like one of my own family—or maybe it was that I was part of your family.  In any case I want you to know that I will always cherish our friendship.  So it is now as a friend that I want to briefly discuss with you my view of present affairs.

It has long been a contention of mine that all people, without exception, want to feel special.  We want to feel special as individuals and as members of a larger group.  Many things can make a person feel special.  It can be who you know, what you’ve accomplished, the area of town lived in—just a million things.  In any case this need to feel special is a basic human need.  One way that people or a person can feel special is to be in the role of victim.  When a touch of prejudice is added, it quickly becomes highly emotional and, in my view, interferes with a clear perception of the facts.  Remember for a person to be a victim other people or things must be placed in the role of victimizer.  For every victim, there must be a victimizer.

One of your primary duties as a city administrator was, I think you will agree, to play the role of reconciler.  The ability to play this role was one of your major assets for the city.  Your mission was to reconcile different races, but also to reconcile divisions within the black neighborhoods.  It is in this context that I think you made a major mistake by attending the killer’s funeral and not the funeral of the policemen killed.  Of course whether or not I or nameless others attended the funeral didn’t matter.  But in your role as a principal reconciler at a critical time, it did matter.

Now a lot is up to you.  The hate mongers on both sides are trying to get up steam.  Each wants to feel special as a victim and demonize the other side as victimizer.  How, I ask you, can we make the unaligned majority feel special in the reconciliation of this matter?  I will be frank with you, it is a little tough seeing you as a victim.  You are a natural leader.  How will you lead?  What role now will you choose to continue in service to our city?  I remember the story of a boy who caught a little bird.  He clutched and concealed it in his hands. Soon, a man came by and the boy asked the man “Guess, is this bird I’m holding dead or alive?” The man somberly replied, “Son, the answer to that lies in your hands.”

So now, my friend, it is up to you.  How can you help achieve amenable diversity?  Undoubtedly different sides can each gather in towers of victimization and thus feel very special—again a basic human need. Or else they can meet and greet like we did so many years ago under the special banner of brotherhood.  I must relate that Kathy and I had dinner at Chili’s this evening and the racial mix of happy customers there kept reminding me of your news conference today with its undertone of victimization and polarization.  Of course, I can never “walk in your shoes” but I want you to know that a friend is waiting to see which way you lead—the easy way by becoming the commander of the victimization gospel where ready troops await to fall in line, or will you make people (and yourself also) feel special in more challenging and productive pursuits?

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