American news and social media feeds lately have been frustrating, confusing and depressing. In the light of amazing progress we’ve made in the past century when it comes to racial prejudice, it’s hard to face the stories coming from Ferguson and Staten Island. And one of the hardest things to watch within that is everyone taking sides. At a time when we could be uniting in love to help heal the hurts, we are divided.

I want to take the words of a man famous for initiating change when it comes to race in America.

“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation…”–Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Proclamation

Let’s be continually grateful for how far we’ve come as a nation–but always remembering that nothing is perfect and that there is always room for growth. And most importantly let’s remember that in these situations there are widows, orphans, mourners and sufferers left to handle the mess of these tragedies. Your feelings on indictments aside, every killed person leaves behind loved ones who are processing grief that is interrupted by media attention. They’re left to wonder “Why?” and “What if?”.  And in the midst of this pain and confusion, we get riots.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?”–Martin Luther King Jr

Without condoning the riots that were going on at the time,  King, as a non-violent individual, was able to respond to the violent acts in a loving way. Rioting is never an answer. But when a people riot, it is because of something that shouldn’t be ignored. It is in no way helpful to ignore the cries of hurting people, or to tell them they are incorrect for feeling the way they do. (Many marriages could be saved with this same piece of advice!)

All we do when we choose sides in these situations is alienate others and segregate ourselves. We can see from Facebook posts, riots and protests that there are people hurting in our nation. They feel unable to express or change their reality. Yet instead of listening, we are all shouting our own feelings. Divided.

What have we failed to hear? How can we be united? What can we do to change our nation for the better.