A different act of love

Published 7:04 pm Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Dennis Edwards

Growing up in 1960s Suffolk was a daily adventure in contrasts. Carefree hours playing at the field on St. James Avenue seemed in direct conflict with a world growing up too fast with the help of civil unrest, the Space Race and Vietnam.

When we needed to know what to do with the sticky wickets of life, we listened to parents who loved us enough to tell us the truth in moments of crisis.

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Once, when I was about 8, I ran home almost in tears. One of the bigger boys in the neighborhood had picked a fight. I didn’t see the need for taking on a larger kid and getting what we called back then a public “butt-whupping.”

But it bothered me to run home against the instinct to defend myself. When I got there, my mother was in the kitchen. “What’s wrong with you?” I told her, and she said, “Why are you here? Go back out there and kick his butt.”

Later she explained that had I not fought the boy then and there, I’d get beaten up every day.

The best thing she could have told me was the truth about the real meaning of that moment. So I followed her instructions.

Of course, she wanted to know the result. As I described the outcome a gentle yet excited approval blanketed her face. Then she threw a curve ball. She said, “You actually did him a favor.”

She explained that, had I not stuck up for myself, his aggressive behavior would have escalated into far worse later. So by nipping it in the bud now, so to speak, I had saved him and myself from worse consequences later.

Most today would call that a politically incorrect resolution. But back in the mid-‘60s, you took care of your own street business.

Ironically my adversary and I became lifelong friends after our moment of discontent. He never tried that again.

The same is true when it comes to our dialog about race, police violence and discrimination. We’ve got to love each other enough to share our point of view, to be “truthful, straightforward and frank.”

Now, that doesn’t mean candor should be used to opine endlessly about the government, welfare or outsiders stirring up trouble. Those are talking points, not arguments. It does mean listening to and seriously thinking through what folks are saying and honestly responding to what they actually say.

I’ve learned that candidly talking to people who say and do the wrong thing can be an act of love. Perhaps we should care enough about those bent on mistreatment to gently tell them how they really look and sound.

At a time of clear racial anxiety around the country, we need to be appropriately clear with each other. We need to talk as equals. In love, one side need not defer to the other. Also in love, one side need not retaliate against the other for being honest.

So for me candor in the right situation is not just an act of kindness. It is an act of love designed to make sure the relationship evolves and continues in the right direction.

Our best interest is advanced when we refuse to deny anyone’s experience or to twist what they say for political purposes. It’s time to listen and get used to direct conversation from people who will never do again what their forefathers had to do.

The love in candor is in clarifying the nuances of disagreement. Once beliefs are modified, behavior follows and authentic friendship quickly grows. I guess that’s what Mama was trying to show me.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor. He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dennisredwards@verizon.net.