Are we telling ourselves the truth?
That’s what keeps coming up for me this morning as I sit down to write. Are we really telling ourselves the truth?
[note: this is probably the scariest piece I’ve ever written, so here it goes…this is me, fumbling in the dark trying to be brave]
Recently I participated in a Zoom event that focused on “reaching across the racial divide.” It was a well-attended event, filled with some of my favorite people on the planet, all of whom truly wish to make a positive difference in the world. The event’s intent was to create a ripple effect of change, so we’re not just talking (or, in my case, writing) about what we can do but taking meaningful action to do it. To risk getting uncomfortable in order to understand.
But as I listened and participated and looked around the Zoom room, I couldn’t help but notice that, while we had many different backgrounds and skin colors represented (albeit not as many as I would have liked to see), everyone in the room looked through a very similar lens. We didn’t represent differences, from a socially-economic spectrum. Our thinking on the topics at hand was similar if not the same. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were just simply talking about change. Are we REALLY willing to DO what it takes or do we like the idea of thinking we are?
Thirteen years ago I moved from Seattle to Dallas. Seattle and Dallas are very different cities with very different cultures and very different political views. I packed up my self-righteous beliefs and paraded them about. I bought a bright red Prius when it was first on the market and taught my young son to hiss at the Hummers from his car seat in the back when they drove by. In Dallas, Hummers were plentiful.
One thing I absolutely loved about Dallas was our neighborhood. I hadn’t grown up in a neighborhood where people were close, so for me, it was life-altering. I remember when we first “landed” in Dallas, our neighbor brought over a Texas sheet cake and a bottle of Texas wine to welcome us home. “Wine on the patio” with our group of neighbors became a weekly occurrence as we had young children who grew to love one another as much as we did.
I remember, distinctly, the night my worldview was shattered. I think the red wine had loosened my tongue and I opened the political Pandora’s box. I suspect I said some hurtful things, armed with my better-than-thou beliefs. I’ve always been a fiery, passionate, verbal creature and could wield words like a sword in defense of what I perceived as “right and good.”
The next morning, as I sat in my regret over “going there,” I was flooded with an awareness that I have never lost.
How am I any different?
The thing I had always demonized about the “other” was, what I viewed, as a complete lack of empathy and tolerance. Yet how was I any different, really? Was I showing empathy and tolerance in my views? Not in the least. I wasn’t even stopping for a millisecond to listen and understand, I was so convinced of my own position. That awareness was an awakening for me.
Yesterday on my walk I replayed a remarkable interview between Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Maya was recounting a dinner party in which one of her guests was making some kind of racist joke. Even though she was across the room, she had overheard it, walked right over to the individual, and said, “Where’s your coat? It’s time for you to leave my house.”
Then, in the interview, she went on to talk about how words like that are poison. Any word that is designed to dehumanize or “other” a human being is like poison. As assuredly as if we were to go to the store and buy a poison and put it in our house, if we allow it to be there, it will seep into the carpets and into the furniture and onto the drapes.
This is what I see our tribal need to “other-ize” one another has done to our culture. We’ve poisoned one another.
But as I sit here writing, I feel impotent about what to do about it. How do we put an end to hatred and bigotry without creating further divide? Do we sit in the fantasy that somehow it will all just magically go away and that people who do not see the value of equality will somehow wake up and say, “Ah yes! I was wrong! Thank you for showing me the light!” Do we think we’re going to march them into submission? If “they’re” in “submission” aren’t “they” still there, fueling “their” anger until opportunity arises? History says yes. Are we destined to keep replaying see-saw with our political parties, whoever wins is “on top” and whoever loses keeps fighting to make the other wrong? We need an uprising, absolutely, but a new kind of uprising.
I don’t see any of these tactics creating REAL lasting change.
Who dares to actually bring people together? To heal the hurt without judgement? Are we telling ourselves the truth about our commitment to create change or are we simply bouncing around in our echo chambers trying to make ourselves feel better about doing something?
This is likely from my position of privilege, so please know that I recognize the cloudiness of my own lens, but I see, at the root of the racial divide, at the root of the political divide, at the root of the socio-economic divide the poison of “the other.” Regardless of our position, if we look at the world as us-against-them, then we are not moving forward, we are entrenching. We are perpetuating the problem.
We have to stop painting human beings with such a broad brush. To recognize that every person has a story and a history that has led them to believe and behave the way they do. How can we find a way to sincerely understand the individual stories that make up the “other”—whoever that “other” is in our narrative? How do we get to the root of the pain that causes such anger and hatred? If we can humanize every person (which is a funny thing to need to do, given that every person is, indeed, a human), how would that change things?
Now, do I have the courage to reach across the divide and listen to the stories of people who have grown to hate and hurt, if I’m really honest, I’m not sure I do. And I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea to invite a white supremacist to our next meeting (goodness, no!). But I do think, if we want to heal, we’re going to need to find a way to bring ALL people together. I pray I can find my brave to take the next right step, whatever that will be.
But let’s not fool ourselves. If we’re not including everyone in the conversation, we’re not really creating change. Let’s tell ourselves the truth.
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