What – not who – is really to blame in Ferguson?

For the past few weeks I’ve sat quietly, refusing to speak out either way regarding the chaos in Ferguson, Mo. True enough, I am a political columnist, talk radio host, and a former police officer. Yet, I have consciously chosen to stay away from addressing the riots in Ferguson, even though one would assume I would be covering it along with the rest of the media. I have a rule for myself that basically states that if what I have to say on a subject fails to provide either a solution or helps to provide clarity to a problem, then what I have to say simply isn’t worth saying.

Despite the fact that facts were the one thing missing in Ferguson, many in the world of political punditry rattled on and on with varying opinions of every topic handed to them, ranging from the disconcerting militarization of America’s police forces to the ridiculous attempts by far-left extremists to blame the incident of August 9th and all that followed on, of course, climate change. On a side note, I’d imagine that even the fear-mongering Chicken Little—who himself stormed throughout the barnyard warning others that, “the sky is falling!”—would tell those screaming about Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Jihad to relax, lest others fail to take them or their future efforts seriously.

At this point there’s no denying the fact that the country is pretty much divided into two camps regarding Ferguson. Some will tell you that Officer Darren Wilson abused his police power in the initial confrontation and needlessly shot the victim, Michael Brown, while Brown had his hands up in an attempt to surrender. However, the other camp will tell you about the serious medical injuries sustained by the officer during the struggle between the two men that seem to support the officer’s claims. Regardless, both sides have prematurely convicted the other, well before all the facts and evidences have been presented.

And all the while, Ferguson is staring America right in the face, giving us an unflinching look at the core of what’s wrong with our society. Some may say that the problem in Ferguson stems from racism. Another may tell you that the problem stems from a violent thug culture, while others may say the real problem is the militarization of our American police forces. Regardless of any evidence they may present to support their assertions, all of the above issues are but a small symptom of what truly ails us as a nation.

The real problem is that we have too much passion, and not enough compassion. And passion that isn’t tempered by our compassion for others quickly becomes a raging fire that devours the man who wields it. Because the focus of passion is on oneself, while compassion by its very nature, focuses on the well-being of others. And that’s exactly what you see happening all throughout the United States. From the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C., all the way down to our local diners, people are passionate about a whole host of issues that are important to them, but too few are taking time to be compassionate toward their neighbor.

The problem with Ferguson, MO is the same problem everywhere else in the United States. People became overwhelmed by their emotions, which led them to participate in the mob mentality we witnessed on the news. Compassion for the families of both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson was replaced–and perhaps never even considered–by the morally bankrupt considerations of those who were SOS: Stuck On Self. The compassionate man does so today knowing that he may be in need of it tomorrow.

Everything that happened in Ferguson is but a mere symptom of a lack of compassion for one’s neighbors and their community. From the haste shown by those who are in a rush to judge either side before all the facts are known, to those who ignorantly participated in the destruction of property belonging to others, even all the way down to the heavy-handed response of the police; it’s all symptomatic of a lack of compassion and consideration for others beyond oneself. And they excuse such actions by saying the looters are just frustrated because, “they just want to have their voices heard.”

Truthfully, I don’t believe any of those pundits who attempted to explain away such unexplainable behavior did so simply because they had to have something to say.

People mistakenly believe they have a right to be heard. However, the cold, hard truth of the matter is that they don’t. Oh sure, you have Freedom of Speech as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, but even then your speech is limited in regards to what you say and how you say it. Everyone knows that the FBI would have something to say to anyone who decides to board a plane and immediately announce they have a bomb on board. Likewise, continuing to yell out curse words in a public place in front of small children could result in your arrest for disorderly conduct in certain jurisdictions. You have freedom of speech, but even it is regulated within the confines of what society deems appropriate behavior. But one thing you do not have is a right to be heard. Your freedom of speech can continue as others walk away.

Rather than being so engrossed with ourselves, wouldn’t it behoove us to slow down and get to know those around us? Because we can talk about all of the many symptoms plaguing us, but unless we address our lack of compassion, we’re simply ignoring the real problem. Let’s not wait until a tragedy strikes at home before we take a look around and realize we’ve been consumed by our own passions, instead of showing compassion toward others. Slow down and help that stranger in line behind you at the grocery store, you’ve got the time. Reach out to a local family who’s in need of a helping hand. Do something kind for others in their time of need today, so they’ll help you in your time of need tomorrow.

Mike Swims is a political columnist and podcast host. He is also a Demopolis resident and local preacher. His column on politics and current events appears regularly for The West Alabama Watchman. Want to contact the author? Email him at mswimsfla@gmail.com.