There are Difficult but Promising Conversations Going on Now. Here, Some Help in Having Them
I have been fascinated, and often encouraged, by the conversations going on right now in our country about who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Some of these are really tough and awkward. Some of the toughest ones are in our own heads. People are asking themselves if they are as open minded as they thought. Am I as unbiased as I think I am? I sympathize with others, but have I really been listening? Do I have any grasp of what others are living and thinking?
Do You Hear Me? Really?
I have the greatest admiration for those who have broken the mold, and for those trying still to do so. I have a sign on my desk that says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Boy, is that ever the case today. But easier said than done. For a white person to actually understand what it is to be black, to have a black teen aged son that you feel is at risk every day of their life, takes real work. We can never fully get there. For a black person who has known police more as a threat than a protection all their lives, understanding why a white suburbanite would feel threatened by calls to defund the police would take almost an out of body experience to understand.
And yet, we all need to learn how to cross over into understanding others whose experience is so different from our own. If we fail at this, we will have wasted an extremely rare and precious opportunity to make America more like its ideals. History will damn us if we lack the courage and fortitude, the vision and the will, to get this done.
How Do We Get There?
A lot of bright, dedicated people are asking, and answering, that question of how we come to understand truth and each other. I expect more approaches and opportunities will be evident in the coming days for those who are ready to try them. One of the things I am finding helps immeasurably is to listen to the stories. The humanity of someone’s personal stories beats a long argument over policy and politics every time.
In that spirit, I offer you two such stories today, and a fascinating compendium of short observations from a wide, wide variety of ordinary citizens. Reading these helped me think and reframe in ways I find helpful. I hope you will find the same.
I Thought I Understood. I was Wrong.
No less a political genius and keen observer of humanity than David Axelrod, architect of Obama’s brilliant run for the presidency starts us off. Axelrod has been involved in American politics and society for all of his adult life. He worked for many years for one of our best black political leaders, Harold Washington, when Washington was mayor of Chicago. Yet, Axelrod says the last three weeks have made him realize he really did not get it all these years. Now, he says, he is beginning to actually understand, and it is changing his life. This is a short but powerful read.
A Black Man Answers His White Friend’s Question
How does a black man answer a race question from a white person, knowing that person’s life experience is completely different from his? Knowing that what he is about to tell him will seem unimaginable to that person? In this case, it ends well, but hearing the mental gymnastics firsthand is something else. By the way, the fact that this was published in National Review (America Begins to See More Clearly Now What Its Black Citizens Always Knew) may be yet another indicator of how different things are this time. Last place I would have expected to read an article like this was the National Review. They did a service in publishing this one. Read it.
This is the Sound of All of Us
That line, “This is the Sound of All of Us” is drawn from one of my favorite songs, One Voice. Its lyrics are especially poignant right now (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc6HloRYZGc ). I chose it for this section to introduce a fine bit of work by OZY, one of the newer electronic publications that is doing really fine work. This is one you would not likely want to read in one session. I encourage you not to lose track of it; read a few entries every so often.
In answer to the question “What do you think is going on in America now?” over 2000 readers responded. The editors selected 100 entries that they felt spoke for everyone. It is a powerful, touching bunch of statements. They run from right to left, from anarchist to traditionalist, but are mostly somewhere in the middle.
Most are short, only a small paragraph. But they are full of emotion; hope, despair, anger, love. Taken together, this is us, for better or worse. These are to savor and reflect upon. In more than one entry, you are likely to find your own heart and mind. In others, you will gain appreciation anew of just how much we have yet to do.
Want a sample of how good this can be? Try this one on for size:
“I’m a white man, 62 years old, who is now an associate pastor at an historic African American church in Florida. I am the first white pastor to ever be on the staff at this 130+ year old church. I am deeply honored that they extended an invitation and deeply humbled as well.
Back in the 1970s, I was the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, the largest Klan north of the Mason-Dixon Line….”
See what I mean? Read on.
In some ways, much of the country is introducing itself for the first time to others who want to know them. This is a good thing. Now, that we are getting to know each other, what will we do next? I am hopeful but have no way at this point to gage the possibilities before us.
I know that making the political changes on November 3rd is immeasurably important, at all levels. That will not be nearly enough, but without those changes, most of the rest of this will be stillborn.
Let’s do our part to ensure that change – and growth as a society – happens.
If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:
(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish, end your COMMENT with the word PRIVATE. I will post your comment as anonymous, if you find that helpful. But do let us hear what you are thinking.
(2) Share the word about this blog with friends and colleagues. (https://agentsofreason.com). Share a link in your emails and social media posts. Let’s grow our circle.