What if we each did something different, the thing that was least expected and not part of the usual pattern of response?
A young man who I will refer to as Wayne told me about the time he realized another young man was stealing from him. He figured out who was stealing and how he was managing to do it. So, Wayne decided to go to the guy to talk with him.
Wayne told the guy that someone had been taking things from his room. The guy said that he was sorry to hear it and asked if Wayne knew who it was. Wayne then looked the guy in the eyes and said, "It's you, man."
The young man denied the allegation over and over initially, but Wayne explained to him how he knew it was him. Wayne went on to tell the young man that he did not have to steal and that if he needed something, he could've come to him and asked.
He finally admitted to stealing and apologized profusely.
Wayne talked with the young man and learned about his situation. Then, he collected some of his personal belongings and gave them to the young man. The young man seemed astonished for a moment, and then said to Wayne: "No one has ever done nothing like this for me, ever. I'll never forget this and if there's anything I can do for you, anything at all, you just let me know."
This deceptively simple story is chock-full of lessons that remind us of our interconnectedness. Wayne could have beat up the young man or had him locked up. Not many people would disagree had he done so, but it seemed that Wayne understood that change happens in relationship and not from a disconnected place.
Being beaten or locked up as punishment does nothing to stop crime or bad behavior. Instead, those beaten or locked up learn how to become better at criminal and/or bad behavior and those acts are then committed against the communities in which we all live. We all play a part.
Wayne moved toward the young man by being curious about his situation, rather than trying to get rid of him with violence or punishment. Wayne chose not to see the young man as a villain, which changed how he reacted or responded to him.
In turn, I imagine that it changed how the young man will see others from that point on as well. I imagine that he has a new perspective, a newfound respect for other people's things and that he is much less likely to continue stealing in the future as a result.
Why? I think it's because he was, perhaps for the first time, given an opportunity to connect with someone through the compassion that was shown toward him. It is much more difficult to do wrong or bring harm to those who one is able to see as being "like me" or "someone who understands me."
We cannot force people to have regard for others and their things; we have to create a context in which that becomes possible. We are not separate, but connected and change only happens in the space between us. Do something different.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.