Last month, 10 members of my congregation joined me and three other educators for a training in Emotional CPR. The premise is simple: when we’re in emotional crisis, what we need most isn’t for someone to rescue us or fix us or set us straight; what we need is to know that others are able to connect with us on an emotional level, that we aren’t alone in the world, even when it feels like the whole universe is crashing down around us.
The 12-hour training asked us to practice connecting with one another around crises both big and small while others resonated with us. For three Saturdays, we came together and truly sought to hear what the other was saying, to be with one another in what was truly important.
When I first trained in Emotional CPR, my first thought was, why isn’t this our default method for being with other people? After all, if everyone communicated in ways where we could hear what the other is saying in the midst of emotional crisis, I suspect there would be a lot more compassion and a lot less division in the world. Why don’t we learn the skills of connection when we’re young? Why are we, instead, taught to be dismissive, defensive, and confrontational?
I thought of this as I reflected on the events of the last year. This time last year, I was marching in solidarity with people around the world demanding justice for George Floyd, who was murdered in Minneapolis after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes, suffocating him.
My reasons for doing so seemed obvious: no one deserves to die because of the excessive force of another. In my theology, there is nothing you can do that denies the possibility of redemption, and force leading to death should only be used as an absolute last resort when nothing else works, and even then it’s not something to be celebrated.
We received a lot of support. We also received pushback from people in the area who didn’t share my vision of a world where no one is beyond love. One person sent me a five-page letter containing every racist deflection that’s been used against racial justice protestors since the 1950s. Someone stole my congregation’s banner. People accused us of all manner of false witness to give themselves an excuse to dismiss us.
My work in Emotional CPR is reminding me that I can’t change these people. There’s no way I can convince them using logic and reason that we should care about other people.
Instead, I’ve continued this racial justice work by connecting with white people about racial justice issues. That’s the key: I can’t change a centuries-old legacy of white supremacy all by myself. It will take policy change at the national, state, and local level, but also being willing to connect with people at the personal level.
And, in the process, I will be changed as well because I’ll be able to see people who I strongly disagree with through the eyes of compassion, that, though I think their actions and words are hurtful and harmful, because no one is beyond the power of love.
If we seek to build Beloved Community, there has to be a place for all people. How we connect with one another matters. My practice of Emotional CPR reminds me that how I interact with people matters, that, in the world we seek to build, there needs to be a place for everyone, that rights for some does not diminish rights for others.
And maybe connecting with one another might just be the way to reach a point where the reactionary mantra “All Lives Matter” will become the truth, because we’ll stop making excuses for why some lives didn’t matter.
Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.