As an advocate for the end of mass incarceration and an advocate for the earth, this came to me this morning after spending the weekend writing to prisoners and seeing a film about the Pope. I share it here because we cannot connect to the beauty of our own souls without connecting to our collective beauty—without peace, compassion, and understanding.
When we talk about prison, we’re not really talking about crime. We’re talking about deep wounds within us as a people, collectively. Because it is not just the individual who is wounded—it is our community. The responsibility lies with all of us.
I was listening to Pope Francis speak this weekend, and he was talking about climate change and how plastics have polluted our oceans. He said that we are all responsible for this; not one of us can claim we are somehow separate, above it, guiltless.
I believe our failure to take responsibility and create change around mass incarceration or climate change comes from our collective forgetfulness: we have forgotten we are one. If we take our lens and zoom out, we are individuals moving one body. My actions impact you and yours impact me.
Until we make incarceration visible, we will go on forgetting. As long as we continue to surrender to a media that focusses more on sensationalism, ratings, and pundits bickering than mass incarceration, abuses against our earth, racial discrimination, poverty, and the human refugee crisis, there will continue to be wounds, and mistakes, and cages to so-called “correct” those mistakes.
We will continue to lose.
This is why listening is more vital to our survival than speaking right now: we must open our ears and open our hearts and listen to all people, those who are like us and those who, seemingly, are not.
A friend told me recently: “I am a history teacher; of course I am an advocate for traveling. How can you understand the world if you don’t see it?”
When Pope Francis travels, he puts his hands on the heads of the people he meets and blesses them—sick, poor, wealthy, healthy, it doesn’t matter. He clasps hundreds of thousands of hands. And this is why we look to him for guidance and why he tells us that God loves all of us, fervently and equally, whether we love him back or not. Even the atheist is loved by God as I am loved by God, he says. His sagacity comes from having touched humanity in all its flavors.
I believe our schools, our soundbite politicking, and our 24/7 television punditry have done us a grave disservice because all have forgotten to show us this consequential truth: we are connected—to each other, to this earth, to ourselves.
What I’m asking for is simple: may we speak this truth—one sentence—to our children as often as we can, from the moment we begin speaking to them. May we raise them on this. And may we show them by living it ourselves, with open ears and open hearts.