Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!

Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.


Who Am I?

I keep reading and hearing posts about how “all these Democrats” and “liberals” are ruining the country…are anti-God…are anti-patriotic…who hate anyone who disagrees with them…want to take away everybody’s guns…and on and on. You know the kind of language I’m talking about.

Well, I’m not sure who all these Democrats and liberals are that are being talked about. While I am a registered Independent, I tend to vote Democratic, and I would consider myself liberal. But I tend to get lumped into that group.

You might be interested to know that I am an ordained minister who believes in God’s love for all people. And while Christianity is the path that I have chosen, I have also enjoyed sharing with friends and family members who have followed different spiritual paths (or none).

I love the country of America. I lived for a few years of my childhood in another country, but America is my home, and I love it.

I have a number of friends I disagree with politically and theologically–but I don’t hate them. Disagreement doesn’t equal hate; it just means I disagree with you.

While I don’t want a gun in my home, I’m not trying to take away everybody else’s guns. My daughter has a concealed carry permit. I have family who hunt. I’m fine with folks having guns for target practice…for hunting…and even for self-protection if that is their choice. But I think it’s well past time for some common sense gun control so that we don’t keep having to send “thoughts and prayers” to the families of people killed by someone who thinks they have a right to carry a weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible.

I believe that climate change is real, that we–as human beings–are major contributors to it, and that we must make major changes to try to reverse it before it is too late. I don’t believe we have much time, and I am concerned that a refusal to acknowledge it is far too prevalent today.

I believe that education is more than merely indoctrination…that it should challenge some of our understandings rather than merely confirm us in our prejudices. I want teachers to be allowed to teach, to encourage thinking in our children rather than helping them prepare for test after test after test.

And yes, I support legal abortion. I remember back alley abortions, and I don’t want to go back to that time. There are a lot of reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, and I believe those decisions should be made by her in consultation with her doctor, her significant other, and a minister (again, if that is her choice).

I also support equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t always…but I have grown in my understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, and I can no longer deny individuals the same rights and protection that I have.

Although, as I indicated above, I am an ordained minister, I believe there should be a wall of separation between church and state so that all individuals can worship in safety, without the government breathing down their necks.

I believe that women should be able to feel safe when they walk down the street–and that their experiences should be believed. Yes, I know there are sometimes false accusations, but those are few and far between. It’s far more likely that a woman will not share an experience of sexual assault because of how she has seen other women attacked and demeaned while reliving a traumatic experience.

I also believe that there has to be a better way of working out our differences with other governments than going to war. However, I appreciate those individuals who choose to join the armed services as their way of helping to protect this country that I love. My husband served in Vietnam, and two of my grandsons also served in the military. One was a Marine who served in Iraq and who died far too young. The other was in the army and served in Afghanistan.

I would love for us to return to a time of civility with each other…with a willingness to engage in true conversation with each other as we search to find common ground. I would love to see lawmakers be willing to reach across the aisle to work together…to understand that “compromise” is not a dirty word.

I do also see some posts and comments making similar comments about “Republicans” and “conservatives”…so this issue is not one-sided. We are all guilty.

But can’t we please start seeing each other as individuals? Complex individuals with whom we may agree on some issues and disagree on others? Can’t we please start focusing on finding common ground…some places where we can work together?

We have to, before it’s too late. Before this country becomes so terribly divided that we cannot find our way back together. I just hope it’s not too late…



Making us great…

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “making America great again”…along with suggestions from some about how to do that. Many of those suggestions seem to look back to some undefined time when the world basically seemed to revolve around whoever is speaking. I’ve often heard it said that that “time” was when we were children–when we were not aware of the complexity of the challenges that surrounded us…

I’d like to suggest that rather than worrying about making America great (again), we might be better served by doing what we can to make humanity great. We’ve never really succeeded at that–and I think it’s because we’ve been too focused on (1) our own personal need / desire to be seen as “great” and (2) our need / desire to separate the world into “us” versus “them.”

So what would it take to make us (meaning humanity) great? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions and ideas (not presented in any particular order).

  1. Seek to understand. That comes from Stephen Covey. There’s more to the quote–“seek to understand before being seeking to be understood.” How do we do that? By listening…really listening. We were given two ears and one mouth for a purpose–and if we listened twice as much as we talk, we might make some good progress toward finding common ground. We all make our decisions based on our experiences, and until we try to understand someone else’s life experiences, we won’t be able to understand why they make the decisions they do.
  2. Recognize that we are stewards of the earth. We all live on this planet…we all depend on this ecosystem for our very existence. If the ecosystem fails, we will die. It’s that simple. We’ve already seen some species die out either because we hunted them to extinction or because they were unable to adapt to a changing climate. We need to take care of the earth, not just use it to death.
  3. Delight in the diversity of creation–animal, plant, and human. We seem to find it fairly easy to do that with animal and plant, but not so easily with human. We’re not all the same…we never will be. But there is so much to learn from each other, so much to enjoy when we are open.
  4. Be willing to understand the complexity of our human bodies. We used to think our bodies were simple, but they’re not. Our brains and bodies are complex…when they work together, things are good. But when they don’t agree, life gets really complicated! Our bodies don’t always reflect our gender identity or our sexual orientation…there is so much more to learn.
  5. Stop saying that it has to be either faith or science. They can complement each other. Science helps us understand the “how”; faith helps us understand the “why.”

Obviously there are a lot more ideas that could be added to this list, but if we make it too long, it would be overwhelming. And obviously I’m not giving a lot of specifics as to how to implement these ideas, because each of us can implement them in our own unique ways.

But maybe…just maybe…we can make humanity great. We have to…or we may find ourselves going the same way as the dodo bird.


Seek first to understand…

While I was working, I was involved in some time-management and leadership training from Stephen Covey a couple of different times. Since I’ve retired, I no longer use that particular calendar material, but there is still one item from the training that remains with me. That is one of the steps from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People…”Seek first to understand.”

I’ve been particularly aware of the value of that statement the last couple of weeks as the news in my faith community and my state (as well as in the national news) has been full of responses to a couple of very difficult situations.

The first is the LDS decision to deny sacraments to the children of same-sex couples until they are 18 and deny the behavior of the parents. I have to confess that as I have sought to understand the rationale behind that decision, I find it very difficult. I have read a number of comments and stories from both sides of the issue and–again, quite honestly–I am grateful not to be a member of a faith community where I would have to make that kind of choice. Seeking to understand is a challenge, but unless I am willing to try to do that, I cannot effectively reach out to those who have been wounded, regardless of their faith stance.

The other is the situation that has been playing out in the university in Columbia, Missouri which has culminated in the ouster of the university president and chancellor. Concerns and issues dealing with racism are apparently behind that situation and, again, there are widely different perspectives.

In reading comments and stories from those differing perspectives–as with those dealing with the LDS situation–it is clear that our backgrounds (i.e., faith understandings and race) have a significant impact on what we see. And I have to confess that I’ve heard some comments from people I consider friends that have disturbed me…

Some of those comments imply that there is only one way to look at a situation–and that is the way that person sees it. If they have not experienced bias–as expressed by those of a different color or faith–then surely that bias does not exist.

Other comments have downplayed the significance of the triggering event as being too trivial to cause someone to go on a hunger strike or to spark a protest. Perhaps…but that ignores what happens when those “trivial” events occur over and over again, building up a climate of fear…of anger…of resentment. I think about the event that sparked the fight over civil rights–a black woman who was tired refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Trivial…perhaps…but when one’s worth is negated time and time again, there comes a point when one will finally say, “Enough is enough.”

Still other comments have implied that because the individual who went on a hunger strike in Columbia comes from a wealthy family, then he had no right to claim bias. Wealth does not necessarily protect one from slights and insults.

When I read the news…or listen to news stories…or hear statements from those who are running for political office that negate the life experiences of others, then I fear that we are building higher walls that will continue to divide us. We are never going to experience life the same way, but we have to start figuring out how to really listen to each other or we will never be able to make the kind of change that will allow us to value each other and live in peace.

“Seek first to understand…”–a good lesson to live by.

Gone with the Wind….?

A while back–before the most recent shooting and the furor over what the Confederate flag symbolizes–I decided it was time to re-read one of the books considered an American classic…Gone with the Wind. It had been many years since I had read it or seen the movie, so I didn’t have strong memories of it. I requested the electronic version at my library, and it took a while before it became available…ironically about the time memories/history of the “Old South” were hitting the news.

I’ve been finding it difficult to read.

Not because it is poorly written. Far from it. Margaret Mitchell had a wonderful way with words. Her dialogue is realistic, her characters–her white ones–much more than cardboard caricatures, and the story draws you in.

But I find myself cringing at her portrayal of plantation life and the “happy darkies” before the war and the paternalistic view expressed by some of the characters with their doubts about whether or not the slaves could be trusted to take care of themselves if they were freed. And while the speech of the white characters is realistic, the “patter” she gives to the African-American characters portrays them in many ways as less than children.

Interestingly, the further I get into the book, the more I find myself comparing her portrayal to that found in the movie Glory, the story of the United States’ first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. That movie also deals with former slaves during the Civil War, but it treats them as real people, with the ability to become more than they had been allowed to under slavery.

The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts are not perfect…far from it. But Col. Robert Gould Shaw expects them to become soldiers…believes they can…and they do. In one scene, he and his men are commanded to go on a foraging expedition with another regiment of former slave soldiers under the command of an officer who–even though a Yankee–treats them as Margaret Mitchell treats her African-American characters…as children who don’t have the potential of being any more than children and who need to be taken care of by superior whites.

While I enjoy the story of the “romance” between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I am realizing just how deeply the paternalistic racism that Mitchell expressed has seeped into our society–and how the baggage from the Civil War still has not been dealt with.

Yet it must be. We have to be willing to take an honest look at ourselves and how we see “the other”, whatever our racial background., Until we are willing to have those difficult conversations, we will continue to be a divided country, still stuck in the 1860s in many ways.

I think we can do better than that.

How do we learn?

I have an almost-2-year-old granddaughter who spends a lot of time with us, since we do a lot of the babysitting. When she was a baby, life was reasonably quiet. She was content to just be held, fed, and changed.

But then something triggered in her mind, and she started to actively learn. Actively…as in on-the-go almost all the time! Actively…as in me thinking “I’m tired!” when she goes home. Actively…as in wanting to figure out what those funny squiggles on a page in a book mean. Actively…as in demanding to spend time working with shapes on my tablet.

It’s an incredible experience to watch.

I wish I could be inside her mind, watching how she makes connections…how she figures out how things work…as she puts the puzzle pieces of this world together. I don’t know how she does it.

Everything around her is part of the learning experience. Everything and everyone becomes part of this whole process. And at this point in her life, she doesn’t separate people or things into “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on anything except for whether she likes the taste of a specific food or whether someone is too noisy or too rough. It’s all just part of her world.

She has an older sibling who she has adored. She doesn’t see D right now, because D is living with biological mother, trying to get some things sorted out…including gender identity issues. That didn’t matter to Ladybug. D was (and is) someone she adores…who spent a lot of time playing with her. There’s enough difference in their ages that D will be experiencing life as an adult before Ladybug begins school–but I think she will still have positive memories of this older sibling.

As I watch her grow, I am reminded again of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific. Lieutenant Cable has fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of Bloody Mary…but he realizes that he can’t take her back home with him, because she would not be accepted. Why? Because she isn’t “like” the folks back home. He sings this song in agony before he heads out on a mission that he will not survive:

What a tragedy…for people–all of us–to be taught to be afraid of people who are different from us!

But I think there is hope. If we can be taught to fear and hate, then surely we can be taught to love…but it takes a willingness to get to know each…to get past the barriers we’ve put up to keep us separate.

All I have to do is to watch Ladybug in her interactions with this world. It’s a fascinating place to her…and me.