As ACA members reflect on the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, it is important to realize that – no matter what each of us might think about the outcome of the trial – this case has serious implications for the counseling profession. Specifically, the political climate that has surrounded the case reflects the current state of affairs in the U. S., one steeped in polarization and toxicity.
More and more, individuals are demonstrating their closed mindedness and revealing pre-conceived notions about others. Even more discouraging, this lack of openness is often celebrated and encouraged by the media as well as within some social groups. Unfortunately, this polarization frequently breeds interpersonal conflict, fear, and resentment rather than relationship, community, and unification. And, if we are not careful, a very real outcome from this chronic polarization might be home grown acts of terrorism against each other. Or, even worse, we could become vulnerable to attacks by our enemies while expending our energy attacking each other verbally, psychologically, and physically. This move toward an “Us vs. Them” society, where we only see our own point of view rather than seeing the value in others’ views compromises our human development.
As counselors, we are trained to become relationship seeking rather than relationship avoidant. We are taught that, when we isolate ourselves and become inflexible, we are seen as dysfunctional and toxic. We are socialized to facilitate relational consciousness within our clients. Coupled with this belief in relationship is a history of social action. Counselors have historically taken a stand to challenge conventional beliefs and advocate for our clients within a holistic context.
Let us think critically about what the Zimmerman case really means within the context of the greater good for society. We should ask ourselves, “What is our role in enhancing relational skills in our society? In what ways can we advocate for peace or for justice?” Some would say that having more guns make us safer. Others would say that fewer guns are the answer. As counselors, we believe that it is our attitude that dictates our actions.
Nelson Mandela (who served as president of South Africa following the abolition of apartheid) once stated, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It’s a long walk to freedom but the journey feels lighter with company.
Cirecie West-Olatunji, Ph. D.