Empathy: Minister Farrakhan Conflict Resolution & the Restoration of Brotherhood

By Demetric Muhammad-Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Jul 23, 2019 - 9:49:59 AM

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Every morning that I turn on my television to watch the local news, I am frequently saddened to learn of shootings and deaths that have taken place during the previous night. In the Black community deaths resulting from gun violence have become a disturbing phenomenon. All too often, we make the decision to react violently to those with whom we have disagreements. News stories abound that reveal that we have reached a time where even a minor disagreement or interpersonal dispute can result in someone being shot and killed.

The inability to peacefully resolve conflicts that exist between husbands and wives; parents and children; brothers and sisters; co-workers and colleagues; neighbors and friends has, at this point, produced rivers of bloodshed within the Black community.  We have a great need to make peaceful conflict resolution a Black cultural norm.  Our survival as a people depends on it.

An important aspect of peaceful conflict resolution is the development of the ability to empathize with those whom we have a disagreement with.  I am studying the characteristic of empathy based upon witnessing it on display in the life of my teacher the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.  I learn a lot by studying Minister Farrakhan.  He is my teacher and I love to share what I have learned from him. He is an unusual man, and I think that we all should carefully study his life, work, words and how he has been greatly mistreated and misunderstood.

One of the things that make the Minister unusual is his profound spirituality.  I have seen people who represent themselves as spiritual, but time and circumstances proved that their commitment to spiritual principles was very superficial.  As I understand it, spirituality or spiritual awareness is when we can respect the fact that each and every human being is so much more than mere flesh and blood. 

Spiritual awareness is the recognition that man and woman exist as a unique configuration of mind, body, soul and spirit.  Spiritual awareness is the appreciation of the fact that no man or woman is who they once were; and neither is any man or woman who they will become in the future.  We are all growing and evolving.  Ultimately spiritual awareness or spirituality is the understanding that Allah (God) is the only true reality.  Allah was; Allah is; and Allah will always be.  The rest of us are passing and temporary realities who occupy time and space for a season within all of eternity.  The spiritually aware and awakened man or woman seeks to live life—our short season—within all eternity, acting in harmony with the Creator and His Creation.

The critics of Minister Farrakhan don’t see him as spiritual.  They attribute pejorative attributes to him all the time.  They call him angry and hate-filled.  Yet, what they misconstrue as hate and anger is the passionate expression of courage born out of his deep and profound capacity to love.  This is a very important fact to appreciate.  For, when the Bible states that “perfect love casts out fear” it presents courage and bravery as the fruit of love.  Courage then must not be seen or viewed as arising out of vanity; nor must it be thought of as the result of hatred.  The Minister’s long history of “speaking truth to power” is a portrait of awe-inspiring courage.  That Minister Farrakhan has been witnessed and become known for speaking powerful truths that condemn the evils of the most powerful forces within the world, is extraordinary.  It is the result of his deep and profound capacity for love; the love that removes fear and produces courage.

I remember an experience that I had with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan that has made me study and subsequently write this article on the importance of empathy as a characteristic feature of successful interpersonal conflict resolution.  According to the Collins Dictionary of the English language, empathy is defined as: “The power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings; the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.”

In appreciating the importance of empathy, it is also helpful to differentiate between a similar concept, the characteristic of sympathy.  According to Webster’s Dictionary:

Sympathy, constructed from the Greek “sym,” meaning together, and “pathos,” referring to feelings or emotion, is used to describe when one person shares the same feelings of another, such as when someone close is experiencing grief or loss. Empathy is a newer word also related to “pathos,” but there is a greater implication of emotional distance. With “empathy” you can imagine or understand how someone might feel, without necessarily having those feelings yourself.”

Min. Farrakhan and Brother Munir at a gathering at CROE headquarters in Chicago.
Last week many in the Chicago community and others around the country were saddened to learn of the passing of Brother Munir Muhammad.  Brother Munir was a very important man who built an institution dedicated and purposed to remember and promote the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.  His center for the housing of C.R.O.E. (the Coalition for the Remembrance Of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) also served as a television studio for his popular television program called “Muhammad and Friends.”  I was blessed to be invited by Brother Munir to be a guest on his show last year.  I am very grateful to Brother Munir for hosting me and so many of my colleagues and fellow helpers of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.  May Allah (God) be pleased with him.

When I learned of his passing I thought about a “rough patch” in his relationship with Minister Farrakhan that was very public.  Because of disagreements and misunderstandings—natural to any and all relationships—Brother Munir publicly chastised and made unflattering statements about Minister Farrakhan.  However, one day Minister Farrakhan said to some of us that Brother Munir wanted to meet with him to reconcile.  At that time, I did not feel that this was something that the Minister should do.  I was angry and disappointed due to the way that Brother Munir was making very negative statements about my teacher, Minister Farrakhan.  I don’t think I expressed it verbally to the Minister, but I felt this way within my own heart and mind.

But as I watched Minister Farrakhan react to Brother Munir’s request, I began to re-think my position and I learned a profound lesson.  The Minister said that Brother Munir feels that “I broke his heart.”  The Minister then looked pensively out into the distance and asked the question:  “How do you mend a broken heart.”?  The room was quiet as those of us with the Minister could see that he was deep in thought.  And someone said that “you know, Brother Minister, there is a song called ‘How do you mend a broken heart’?”  The Minister replied “Really, I’d like to hear it.”  So, the brother found a clip of the song on YouTube and played it so the Minister could listen to it. We all listened to it for a while until someone mentioned that the version of the song, we were listening to was by Al Green but that the original had been done by a group called the Bee Gee’s.  The Minister replied, “Really, I’d like to hear it.” 
So, someone found the original version of “How do you mend a broken heart?” sung by the Bee Gee’s and we sat listening to their original version.  I remember thinking to myself that I never thought that I would have such an unusual experience as sitting listening to the Bee Gee’s with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.  I felt blessed and privileged to witness what I was witnessing.

I was deeply touched by what I witnessed in how Minister Farrakhan handled and reacted to Brother Munir.  I watched as the Minister sat quietly thinking, reflecting and listening to songs because he was trying to see and understand Brother Munir’s point of view.  He was making the sincerest of efforts to empathize with his brother and, as the definition states, “imaginatively enter into another person’s feelings in order to understand the person better.”  An ordinary man in Minister Farrakhan’s position of prominence and power would not be willing to absorb the offense of his brother without retaliating.  And most folks, whether in positions of power or not, aren’t willing to sincerely try and see things from the viewpoint of a complaining friend, colleague or family member. Our communities are filled with examples of when misunderstandings and rather minor disagreements rapidly escalate into “World Star-esque” scenes of violent savagery.

Brother Munir’s passing brought this important episode in my life back to my remembrance.  And though saddened by his passing, I felt inspired because Brother Munir was able to leave this world having participated in a process of reconciliation and a restoration of brotherhood between himself and Minister Farrakhan.  Both he and Minister Farrakhan are to be commended for providing this demonstration of empathy, conflict resolution and reconciliation that we all can learn from and emulate.

Read more from Demetric Muhammad at Follow @brotherdemetric on Twitter.