From the Book, "A Coach For Your Heart"
Henry is with the United States Border Patrol in California. He has been a Border Patrol agent for over twenty years. Prior to that, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan for the U.S. Army. He speaks with volume and directness. Henry gets to the point quickly.
“We are trained to look at the enemy as–how do I put this–a little less than human.” Henry paused for a moment, and said, “In Vietnam, we called the enemy ‘Charlie.’ I’m not supposed to repeat what we called the enemy in the desert.”
Henry sat on the edge of his desk. “Now I come back to the States, get my job with the border patrol, and confront a new enemy: Illegal Aliens. I recognize, and certainly maintain and reinforce, the need for safety and reinforcement of the laws at the border. And it is my job to maintain compliance of those laws with vigor and, if necessary, force."
“But,” said Henry, “We represent the spirit and goodness of the United States. We are the first faces so many of the people see when they engage with our people. We must–absolutely must–show everyone in this world that we are good, fair, and faithful to the tenets of peace and equity reflected in the spirit of our Constitution."
“As a Border Patrol Agent, I am serving the public. Protecting the Border, sure. But I am providing a public service. And, in order to do that, I had to change my perspective on whom I was providing that public service toward.”
Henry poured us both another cup of coffee, leaned back on his desk again, and said, “In order to perform my duties to the utmost effectiveness–which includes reducing and eliminating conflict, managing tension, and offering the best service possible–I had to know the people I was serving."
“So I moved to Tijuana for six weeks.”
“You what?” I said, nearly spitting out my coffee.
“You heard me correctly.”
Staring at Henry in utter disbelief, I said, “Couldn’t you have attended a few seminars? Gone to a cultural awareness lecture?”
Henry opened a drawer, pulled out a piece of paper, and said, “Let me share with you this quote by Mark Twain: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
“I had to.” said Henry, “I had to know these people, as best I could, in order to serve both sides of the border more effectively.”
Henry described his six weeks as “life changing,” but he also said it was “more than that.”
I stopped him right there. “How can something be more than life changing?”
He laughed and said, “I see your point. Here’s what I mean: Something can change your life in how you respond to it. Life-changing circumstances will alter your perspective, your actions, and your thoughts."
“But being in Tijuana, living among those families, seeing what they saw and living the life they endured, every single day, changes who you are, and changes fundamentally how you see yourself. That person in the mirror changes. You’re not the same.”
“But you went to war. Twice.” I said.
“In war, you engage the enemy from a distance. In some measure, you’re protected. In this move, I lived with this so called ‘enemy.’ I was in their living rooms. And the only protection I had was my character, my experience, and my ability to understand their lives. Something that changes your life, yeah that’s life changing. But when you learn to truly understand the heart of another, that’s when your decision about your own life begins to change."
“In Mexico, I learned to empathize. I was removed of my pre-existing prejudices. I hope that I became a more empathetic and understanding person. And I hope it’s made me better in my job.” Henry described the events and activities he participated in while he was there. “I was welcomed into their homes. I was invited to their festivities. I slept on their couches. I ate with them, prayed with them, and worked with them."
“You do that,” Henry said, “and something within you changes, that’s for sure.”
“Now trust me on this: I’m a United States Border Patrol Officer. This is my priority and my duty. However . . .” he said, and paused for a moment. “How do I explain this so you understand?”
“I think I have it.” I said.
“I want to make sure,” said Henry, “this is important.”
“Sun Tzu says, ‘Know thy enemy.’ But the Bible says, ‘Love thy neighbor.’ These are our neighbors. And to truly serve them to the best of my ability, I had to understand who they were."
“Love is the essence of empathy. What Mark Twain said was true, inasmuch as we see other people, not with our eyes, but our spirits. It is within this sight, the eyes of our heart, that we begin to know that we are so similar to one another. We are the same people, with the same concerns about food, shelter, clothing, and the health of our children. We want the best for ourselves and our loved ones. We experience pain, grief, joy and happiness. We strive to be better. We set an example for those we care about."
“And by being with these people, We- who we are as a family, friends, and neighbors on this collective path-is redefined by empathy."
“Empathy," Henry said, "is the travel of the heart.”