By Maria Shriver,
The Sunday Paper,
January 28, 2023
I stared at the video in silence.
My room was quiet as I started watching. So was my breathing. I had been warned the video was inhumane. We were all warned of that, yet I wanted to view it anyway. I felt it was important to see what happened.
Like many of you, I watched in horror as Memphis police officers savagely beat 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. I listened to this man (my own son’s age) call out for his mother. “Ma Ma Ma.” It made me sick to my stomach.
I closed my eyes and sat with what I’d seen. As he screamed his mother’s name, the men hired to protect and defend their community, which included this woman’s child, treated him like he wasn’t even a human being. The officers were charged this week with second-degree murder.
Before the tape was released, Nichols’ mother asked the public to stay calm. She didn’t want to see the city burn or for people to be hurt in her son’s honor.
All this raises an important question: What can be done? What can be done in her son’s honor that would make a difference?
What can also be done to honor those who have lost their lives to mass shootings, including the two that happened this past week in California? They were innocent people who got up one morning, went to work or a celebration, and got gunned down.
Each of us must ask ourselves what can be done. What can we do?
One small step forward would be for each of us to commit in our own way to breaking the cycle of senseless violence in this nation. We must commit to becoming cycle breakers. Individuals need to have the courage to step forward and say, “No, there is a different way forward.”
Tyre Nichols’ mother did that by saying “no” to the prospect of violent protests being held in her son’s name. The Memphis police chief did that this week when she acted swiftly by firing the police officers, holding a press conference, and releasing the footage of the incident for the world to see.
Cycle breakers are what we need right now. We need pattern disruptors. Luckily, they are out there and among us. Maybe you are even one yourself. Maybe you’ve broken a cycle in your own family, on your street, in your community, or at your place of work. Maybe you’ve adopted new patterns that have helped your family or others heal. If so, bravo to you.
We can’t move forward in our lives, in our families, or in society unless we see the patterns, acknowledge them in our hearts and minds, and use our voices to commit to change. We must set out to make our actions match our intentions.
People do this when they break the cycle of addiction or abuse, or violence in their families. People do this when they say, “I’m going to be the first in my family to go to college or become a doctor or run for office or buy a house.” People do this when they say, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way” and get up and leave a toxic situation. People do this when they stand up and confront regimes that keep people oppressed.
Cycle breakers need to take center stage, as they inspire us all to find the personal, professional, and political courage needed for real change, like Maria Resso with her new book “How to Stand Up to a Dictator”.
I’ve always been struck by the cycle breakers who, despite their grief and despair, profess love. They remind us that love is a necessary ingredient to break a cycle. So before you slump into despair about the mass shootings going on around us, and before you give up when you hear everyone screaming and taking sides about gun violence and police violence, and before you become hopeless that nothing will ever change, pause for a moment. Allow yourself to sit quietly and think of those who have and are breaking cycles all around you.
As for me, I stop and think of my mother. As a young girl, I watched her get up every day, put on her clothes (often men’s pants), pack up her briefcase, and head out to the office to do cycle-breaking work on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. She and my father were both cycle breakers, and growing up with them inspired me to break cycles and fight patterns in my life as well.
In fact, everyone I admire has broken a cycle in some way. So many brave parents who’ve lost loved ones to violence use their platforms every day to break the cycle. Fred Guttenberg and Scarlett Lewis are just a few.
Yes, we need gun reform. Yes, we need police reform. Yes, we need more therapists and school counselors. Yes, we need to get to the bottom of what is going on in the hearts and minds of so many men (because we can’t leave men and boys out of this conversation). In fact, therapist Terry Real (who is one of the wise voices in our upcoming Radically Reframing Relationships summit, stay tuned for more details) speaks about the challenge and opportunity for men today. He says that breaking the cycle of philandering, addiction, and workaholism is something every man can and should do if they truly want to be better than the men who came before them.
We also can’t leave ourselves out of this conversation. This is a federal government issue, a local government issue, and a police issue. But it’s also our own issue. We must break free from our own rage and our own anger. We must each take a look at our own relationship with violence and, yes, with guns.
This isn’t about finger pointing. It’s about acknowledging that we have a collective problem on our hands, and that we can each commit to changing it. We must commit to changing it, because if we don’t, there will continue to be more inhumane and heart-wrenching videos, more individuals desperately crying out for their mothers, and more pain that will spread out over all of us.