This week has left me somewhat battered and dismayed, given the rancor and what I view as the blindness in the U.S. Congress. Watching too much CNN and C-Span can do that to a person. If the Hubs is not around, I often simply turn it off in search of a level of silence. I have a need to go far from the madding crowd in order to regain a sense of balance. Then the new The Atlantic finally showed up on the shelves of the library.
The new December issue of The Atlantic focuses on the subtitle How to Stop A Civil War a theme that runs through three sections of the issue: The Forces that Pull Us Apart, Appeals to Our Better Nature, and Reconciliation and Its Alternatives. I have read into the third section so far. I find it an interesting read that has built upon the other books I have read over the year. Indeed, in order to focus I turn off the noise or go into another room. I want to know and understand what these authors have to say.
For the most part, I find myself nodding in agreement with the authors and sighing in frustration because I am no longer in a position to do much about some of their arguments. On the other hand, I find that I am doing something about what I have read so far in Reconciliation and Its Alternatives. I should elaborate.
The nice thing about where I live is that people talk to each other. I am not talking about friends chatting over coffee, but about the group of us who wait at the door to the library or someone in line with me at the check-out. People talk to each other. I smile when I hear riders thank the bus driver when they disembark. Even in these short conversations, interesting things get said. It is those sort of exchanges that give me things to think about. I hope my listener feels the same way.
For example, I met one lady, let’s call her Alyssa, on several occasions at the library. We got to talking about white privilege, about how we see such things in movies (specifically Glory) about the differing conversations parents have with their children regarding interactions with the police. I haven’t seen Alyssa in several weeks, so I have yet to bring out the idea that neither Black people nor White people should be taken as monolithic groups. We need some wiggle room for understanding that every person has a different experience. Alyssa has mentioned that she has memory problems. She forgets names, she forgets her schedule unless it is marked on her Smartphone. I am sure that by this time she has forgotten me. I have not forgotten her nor what she said, nor have I forgotten the way in which our conversation progressed. It was thoughtful and enlightening. I would like to invite her across the street to the new coffee shoppe to continue the conversation.
Would that there had been more of this. Still, that third section includes a thoughtful discussion of individual encounters. If one “chapter” focuses on the techniques of marriage counseling as allowing us to encounter those who differ, then the third larger section follows a similar line of thought. It is our connections on a local level that need encouragement.
We need to re-engage with each other.
It is easy to stay in our own lane with our own groups. That is not news. What should also be no news is that we need to encounter those who differ. From Irshad Manjii’s Don’t Label Me I learned the line “I am not seeking to change you. I am seeking to understand you.” It makes a difference in the conversation. According to recent publicity surrounding the new Mr. Rogers movie, Fred Rogers used the acronym WAIT—Why Am I Talking. Rogers was said to be among the greatest of listeners. Yes, in the recent Atlantic, there is an article about Fred Rogers as well.
Mr. Rogers seemed to have several guiding principles. We were all children once. The president was once a child. Rudy Giuliani was once a child. You and I were once children. If I try to imagine the current president as a child, it brings home what I think are the roots of some of his narcissism. On the other hand, I don’t know enough. If the interruptive style of Joy Behar on The View drives me crazy, I think about the dinner table around which she sat when she was a child. In my greatest of frustrations I have tried to imagine the other person as a child. What makes us who we are?
In the end, I am happy and grateful to have discovered The Atlantic some time ago. If I could write a fan letter and think it would be read, I would. The idea of an oncoming civil war is frightening, but not impossible to imagine. Two years ago my juniors were sure it was going to happen in the near future. I am not so convinced. We have always been a contentious country. We have forgotten that we should understand that we are not a fixed entity but always a work in progress. As a country, we personify the idea that if we are not growing we are dying. Our microcosm of the universe should be ever-expanding. The December issue is, for me, a solid read that pulls together many threads. After all, everything is connected. I recommend it to you, dear reader.