My mother, sister, niece and I recently were enjoying a rare visit at my house, relaxing in front of the television when a news item came on about football players taking the knee as the national anthem was played. I immediately raced for the TV remote “off” button as my sister opened her mouth in consternation and disapproval.
Why? I thought I knew what she was going to say, and I did not want our family time tarnished by disagreement. My sister is not shy about stating her views; my mother even less shy about opposing views.
Me? I want so badly to find peace and understanding.
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I agree while listening to my friends voice their distress about our president, but also feel pained that there may be something we are missing that lies at the heart of where we are as a country. I find my inner voice countering the oft-used phrases and arguments with a cry for humanity. I read The Tribune and national newspapers religiously, and listen to news broadcasts on NPR, PBS and most news networks. When there is a rant, I press the “mute” button. It is important, I think, to be vigilant as a voting citizen. It is equally important to be vigilant about my news sources. Is the reporting thorough in a quest for truth? Or is it a rehash of the latest “he said/and they shot back” tweet? In other words, reporting that is lazy and costs the least? Who owns the station? Who owns the newspaper? Does the owner have a vested interest in a particular point of view?
How can we better seek truth as a bridge in the nasty divide that splits families and communities — and even our own SLO County Board of Supervisors? How can we as engaged citizens seek a better way for our national discourse? It has taken me a while to think this through, but I have grown a list of ideas that I am putting into action in my daily life.
- Step outside and get to know your own neighborhood on foot. Open your eyes and ears to the people you encounter. Say “hello.” What do you observe? Are there people who appear cut off and lonely? Is your neighbor next door struggling with an illness? Is the house down the way looking as though it needs an intervention with weed-pulling? When walking my “grand-dog,” I follow his exuberant example. Greet people as though you are overjoyed to see them, and wish them a great day.
- Listen to the words you hear flying about. Are they jingoistic? Do they tend to get used as hot buttons? Avoid using them in conversation when explaining your views. Here is a list of words I just can’t bear to hear, because they feel like I’m being beaten over the head with a cudgel: “leftist liberal,” “cynical politics,” “snowflake,” “politically correct,” “socialist,” “elite environmentalist,” “tree hugger,” “baby killer,” “Second Amendment rights.” I am guessing there are folks who take more conservative views who have their own list of hot button words or phrases that make them want to close their ears.
- The next time you engage in conversation with someone who holds a view you find abhorrent, see if you can agree on some ground rules. Remove the jingoistic words and phrases that make each of you want to close your ears. Listen to what the other person is saying and truly listen without interruption or thoughts of your own response. Rephrase what your friend has said in the best possible light and say it back to him, asking if this is what lies at the heart of his view. Ask if your friend will then do the same for you.
- Make time to reach out to the people you see in your neighborhood or on your visits to the supermarket or downtown. Look that person in the eye who is holding a sign. Ask for his or her story, even if you don’t have anything to give. There is no need to give money, and in fact money is not recommended. The biggest gift of all is the gift of validating another person’s humanity.
- Try to avoid making assumptions about people, and you will be surprised.
- Finally, avoid using the jingoistic and simplistic memes that fly around Facebook, purporting one side or the other with no nuance.
Don’t lose hope! Wherever you are is the entry point in making change. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
I wish you well in your efforts to back up your own actions and views with coherency and truth while seeking to understand the people around you. Go and arm yourself with truth and understanding as a citizen!