By Janlee Wong, MSW
The current controversy involving the incident with the Covington Catholic High School students, the Black Hebrew Israelites and Native Americans mirrors the political and racial divisions in our country today. High school students in Washington DC for a pro-life march, encounter others who are also expressing their opinion and views in various forms of protest and free speech. What a great opportunity and teaching and learning moment for those students and those they interact with.
Instead, we see and experience their interactions through the real time and raw lens of cell phone videos. We see facial expressions, physical gestures and actions and hear sounds and voices. What we don’t see is civil discourse, speaking and listening to each other. Young people need to learn how to do this. Older, more experienced people need to teach this. Later, people not there, people with their own agendas, people who want a fight to push their cause, interpret, and worst of all, speak for the individuals who were there. This behavior goes all the way to the President of the United States.
It’s ironic that afterwards, several of the individuals involved say they want to have a conversation, have a discussion but days afterwards, at the time of this writing, nothing has happened. Instead, many people who weren’t there have “chosen sides” and taken to the media to promote their own agendas instead of promoting good civics such as civil discourse.
Social workers have the training and education to promote communication with people who have strong and differing views. Social workers have the empathic listening skills that they can teach others so people can talk to each other and reveal some of their inner most feelings. Instead of teaching young people these skills and how to communicate, adults and the media are inflicting and prolonging a traumatic experience that worsens our political and social divide.
We can’t avoid our instant media society nor can we easily turn off our own need to see through a second-hand lens and then jump to our own conclusions. We can temper these self-gratification needs by teaching others (and the media) how social workers use their understanding of self, of human behavior and ethics to teach others to effectively communicate in a meaningful and mutually respective way.