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“We can never really change someone; people must change themselves.” Stephen R Covey

But that doesn’t stop us trying, does it?

One of those ‘things’ that I find wearing about other people (and which they probably find wearing about me) is when they try and impose their autobiography onto yours. This occurs during many conversations and is CERTAINLY the one that directs much of what passes for debate on tv. You know the one: “A (insert profession) once treated me badly OR was charged with a crime so THEY ARE ALL CORRUPT.”

Despite the fact that the protagonists in our conversations either have no personal connection to the incident OR that they do, but it’s only one incident through which they elect to judge everybody, they will insist on arguing the point. Any attempt on your part to argue the opposite or, grace forbid, to try and suggest a bit of objectivity, is seen as an attack on the former’s integrity and so the argument, based on a false premise, goes on.

We have to acknowledge that what happens to us may be true in the moment, but it is not necessarily true all of the time – it is not necessarily a ‘principle’ that youths hanging around a shop are trouble, for example, even if they occasionally can be.

Many years ago I was a ‘street cop’ and one problem we had outside one shop was a youth gang who were just a nuisance. We would be called incessantly, and move them on only for them to come back. (One effective method I had was to drive up at speed, slam on the brakes and open the door. The gang would run off and I wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. It was fun.)

One day, off duty, I was approaching a shop past a couple of teenagers, and just after I passed I heard a coke can fall to the floor. I testily challenged the youth, “Are you going to pick that up?!”

“It’s not mine,” he replied. It was only then that I noticed a bin, full to overflowing – and the heavy wind that had evidently blown a can off the top.

That was my ‘Aha!’ moment, when I realised that I (we) tend to judge people not so much by what ‘is’ as by what ‘we believe’.

I still do that – it’s nature. But we do have the option of using our proactive mindset to pause and ask ourselves if what we think we saw actually happened.

And so to the people of Ferguson and all those others protesting things they didn’t witness, ask yourselves whether what you’re being told by people encouraging you to damage YOUR OWN COMMUNITY is true. And, even if you conclude that it is, ask yourself why your punishing  EVERYBODY for something ONE PERSON DID is any different to what you’re saying they did to someone you never met?

(And here’s a thought – the two biggest international community backlash protests over police killings have been where the community has gone nuts over a dead criminal – not an innocent. Why IS that?)