Not sure if everyone has noticed, but our Colorado community is suffering right now. I don’t mean from the once-again increasing casualties of COVID-19 or the not-quick-enough economic recovery. I’m not talking about the students, parents, or teachers struggling to keep it together till school ends this year. Those are too obvious. Instead, I’m highlighting that even as those current issues start to resolve, there’s another hidden issue that is holding our community back from the pursuit of happiness that allegedly we’re all supposed to have in this country. It’s empathic awareness; an ability to act and respond with dignity with our fellow humans.
Historically and recently in our state, we have seen Coloradans harming others, sometimes, completely unaware that they are. This does not include clear acts of hatred or violence like abuse, murder, or rape (which we’ve had our share of, unfortunately). This lack of sensitivity or empathy is more insidious and silent in the ways that it shows up.
In Colorado, this state legislative session is an unfortunate example of legislators making hateful comments about their colleagues on the floor, at the mic being recorded in full public view. However, some people watching, and even the speakers themselves occasionally, are clueless about the harm they create. Sadly, there have been “jokes” about lynchings, a discussion of the three-fifths of a person, and the mention of the term “sissy” all within this 2021 session in the House. Recently, our own local state Rep. David Ortiz was the subject of a clueless colleague’s derogatory comment. Our public servants are supposed to be leaders not only in policy but also in camaraderie and civility. They are people we elect to show us the way in how to bring neighbors together and build community.
On top of all this at the state level, we recently witnessed one of our members of Congress from Colorado vote against a federal hate crimes bill intended to counter the rise of anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. Rep. Lauren Boebert was the only member of the Colorado delegation to vote against it. Does she not understand the harm she is causing fellow Coloradans with that vote? We have a torrid history of Asian oppression with internment camps right in our own state. This is a deep wound that she cut and re-opened again for our Asian Coloradans.
For those of us who are not in office, we also need to be more aware and empathic when we post on social media or interact with our neighbors in the community. I’m truly not sure we can do much about people who are blatantly bigoted. But if you claim you are “not racist,” then please watch your words and actions with your neighbors. It is often said Colorado is a friendly state. We need to remember that no matter possible “good intent” of our words and actions, the impact can never be taken back. What might seem small to one person, might be deeply traumatizing to another. We can do better, Colorado. Let’s prove that to be true by not causing harm to each other (whether it’s intentional or not).
For resources in preventing emotional harm and improving awareness and empathy, please feel free to reach out to me.
Former Colorado state senator, now with a master’s in Social Justice and Ethics from Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, facilitator and conflict/DEI consultant. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.
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