It had been a while since I visited. The trip back was filled with a torrent of memories and as the crest of the hill disappeared before me the remembering became vivid, almost visible. My mother and father and those early times together ignited feelings of life lessons learned. Memories kindled unexplainable feelings of connection to another time and place. It was a different place than I was seeing in memory. Except for a few abnormal mounds and depression that gave faint impressions of human touch, the buildings were gone and none of the physical signs that a farm had ever been there remained. Yet through my mind’s eye, something else appeared. The places that I had experienced and written on my heart years earlier sprang to life as a vision in the mist. I was home again. At the same time, I was confronted with the reality that we all live in a world that no longer exists.
Unfortunately, the values we cherish most are usually those things that we talk about least. The passions of our hearts through ignorance, lack of use, or manipulation are not always what we expose. Published passions in today’s world are not in short supply and rampant malleable ideologies grow like weeds. None of us suffers from the lack of opportunity to present what we treasure most. These cherished values that we espouse, if held too tightly, can become the very things that send messages contrary to the core of those very values. This “death grip” forces us to focus on one of our identities and exclude the multitude of other identities in each of us. Anything held too tightly forces us to lay down other things. The fervent pursuit of one identity; conservative, liberal, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Jew, Muslim, American, Nigerian, Greek, Chinese, etc. drives us to the exclusion of any other story that is not the same as ours. The exclusion of other narratives results in an emphasis on identity politics which has no room for any other point of view. This blunder has become dramatically more hostile and exclusive, driving civil dialogue into submission while vilifying and alienating other identities.
As we hang our legs over the cutting ledge, how can the intractable positioning of civil tension be mitigated? What seems like an impossible problem ends up having a fairly simple solution. However, it will be one of the hardest simple things we will ever do. My observation is that most of us are more alike than we are different and the challenges we all face are common.
Friday and Korb is GONE! (Mark Tansey)
My mother, Mary Elizabeth Klein, made it clear each time life carried me on to new adventures, “Remember who you are.” She meant no reference to any identity politics but to one simple truth, know yourself. That is the first step in the solution with the second being an understanding that everyone else has their list of experiences and identities that have added to their story. Their stories are just as valid and though different have common ground with ours. The only way that common space can be discovered is by listening.
Finally, the most commonly neglected aspect of this internalization is to recognize responsibility. What is learned from listening needs to be turned in to action. The primary responsibility for a solution to the impossible problem lies with those who have the most power to solve it. Jacqueline Novogratz (Novogratz, 2020) calls it “the bridge that extends understanding to those with less power" rather than falling for the illusion created by identity politics, that the only way the problem will be solved is waiting for “them” to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is the blinding flash of the obvious that the responsibility, the character, and leadership of those with the power must begin the conversations, the listening, which leads to solutions. Without that resolve, civil dialogue and civilization may never come home again.