Earlier this week, we had a deep conversation with one of our closest and dearest friends, the author Tim Madigan, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Tim wrote the first book we read together: I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers. It spoke to us intimately and revealed many parallels to our relationships with one another. It struck a profound cord within each of our hearts, especially about the inherent worth and significance of all people.
During our free-ranging conversation, as always happens with Tim when we talk, we returned to that book and Tim’s relationship with Fred. This time, we also celebrated the success of another book he wrote: The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Written 20 years ago, it tells the story of a white mob of thousands that obliterated the most prosperous black community in the United States and reduced it to smoldering rubble, killing untold scores of citizens.
This year represents the 100th anniversary of that massacre. There’s been renewed interest in this story in the wake of the racial reckoning taking place in the U.S. which has coincided with the centennial of the Tulsa riots. For the first time, there may be a full investigation into what happened in 1921. An honest, transparent look at that terrible event may uncover the truth and begin the process of finding restitution, restoration, and healing from a horrific evil.
Our conversation with Tim turned to the concept of evil as we pondered the Tulsa riot and related them to stark divisions and rising demagoguery that we see not just here in the U.S. but in countries around the world. The hateful speech; the terrible acts of violence; the relationships that have fractured because so many of us firmly plant our feet in certain ideological grounds and acrimoniously refuse to move an inch in anyone else’s direction.
There is evil all around us, we all agreed. There is an evil spirit that courses among us, within us, and out of us, at times. That spirit delivers us to where we are in the world today — divided. Demagoguery rules the day. The value of lives, diminished. Our diversity, disrespected. Our common humanity, disregarded and discarded.
That dialogue inspired us to write about one of Someone To Tell It To’s core values:
Everyone has inherent worth.
No matter one’s age, country of origin, disabilities, economic status, educational history, gender identity, intellectual capabilities, political leanings, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that defines them.
We remember being asked shortly after Someone To Tell It To was established,
“So would you listen to everyone? Are there some people you won’t?”
“Yes, we will absolutely listen to everyone,” we answered. “We’d listen to everyone who wants and needs to be heard. We think everyone has a story to tell and a need to tell it.”
We think the questioner was surprised by our response, and maybe a bit skeptical. We wondered whether we were being judged for holding this value. That certain kinds of people don’t deserve to be heard. That their stories don’t matter. That they should be written off because of one label or another that isn’t popular or easily understood.
The fact is, this core value is not always an easy one to uphold. There are some people who don’t always make it easy to like them. We all know people with whom we disagree. Or we don’t appreciate their choices or perspectives or personalities. But sometimes they are the very people we need to hear; To learn what is behind their choices, perspectives, and personalities. To understand a little better. Maybe we still don’t agree or like things about them. But maybe we learn to respect them a little more, to at least still view them as people with inherent worth — struggling with their insecurities, broken hearts, and disappointments — simply because they are human.
Don’t we all struggle with insecurities, broken hearts, and disappointments, too? Don’t we all have so many of the same hurts, fears, and losses? And also… so many of the same dreams and hopes and desires for a healthy, peaceful, meaningful life?
During our conversation with Tim, the we raised this question,
“So, what do we do about this evil? How can we overcome it? Can we overcome it?”
“Yes. we can,” we ultimately agreed. “We can, and it’s as simple and as hard as showing and living with love.”
Evil is strong, profoundly so. Evil is persistent, relentless, incessant. Humans’ words and actions against inherent human worth have always persisted. That much is true.
But … love. Love is also persistent, relentless, incessant. Love is persistent. And love is stronger than evil, than hate, than prejudice, than fear, than disappointment, than violence, than division, than anger, than exclusion, than sorrow, than even death.
Far stronger. Far more persistent. Far more life-giving than anything else. Anything.
And that is why we persist in sharing love, respect, grace, and forgiveness. That’s why we listen to the brokenness, the fears, the desires, the dreams, the cries of anguish, the burdens, the searching questions, and the fervent humanity all around us.
We all deserve and need dignity. Especially those most troubled and discouraged among us.
Everyone has inherent worth.
Everyone needs and wants to be loved and cared about. Love and its profound, persistent power, as hard as it sometimes may be to share it, is the answer to affirm in us all our inherent worth.