In many conversations lately, friends use emotionally-laden language to describe  people who hold opinions different from theirs on a wide range of topics. My friends are pretty angry; their words and tone show it. They say “resist, fight, attack, undermine and overcome” the opposition. Win at all costs. The fire and brimstone in their rhetoric is disheartening for it only serves to further the distance between them and those they place in opposition. Some of us don’t seem to mind that when someone wins someone else loses – as long as it’s not us who is the loser. 

We know painfully well what it means to be left out, unheard and invisible. We don’t mind when it’s someone else’s fate.  There is a different approach we might take without resorting to the same tactics we think “They” are using. Sadly, we’re not interested in that other approach because we don’t want to take the time, energy and genuine caring required to engage, listen to and open ourselves to the suffering of others. It takes humility to look within and ask what it is that keeps us from being in harmonious relationship with them AND with ourselves. Fear has a grip on us. It’s what holds us back. Its fear of the other person and fear of what we might need to work on and resolve within ourselves.

None of us is one dimensional. We carry a host of identities which intersect and overlap in ways that make us unique, complex human beings. These identities are in constant flux…where we live, the values we hold dear, our age, financial wellbeing, marital status and relationships change with time and circumstance. Relationship building takes time. We can think of it as an investment in ourselves and the future we’d like to create. 

Derek Black, Godson to David Duke, was a self-proclaimed white nationalist in college when he met Matthew Stevenson over a mutual fondness for country and western music. Matthew, an Orthodox Jew on campus, invited Derek to Shabbat dinners with friends, and over time a friendship developed. Matthew did not reject Derek because of his views. He wanted to fully understand his thinking. He did not ambush his friend or point out his shortcomings. He did not ignore Derek or confront him.

 Yet in the course of the next two years, something remarkable happened.  Derek not only rejected his racist, anti-Semitic views; he wrote a letter of renunciation and apology which appeared in the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013.

It is possible to look beyond labels and discover something deep and true. It is that human beings want to connect. We yearn to belong; to be part of a larger community. We become whole when we share our struggles, our gifts, our achievements and our vulnerability. But it takes time. It takes energy. It takes commitment to what it means to be fully human. That is the problem. We are not invested. It is easier to project our discomfort on to others. We don’t like the answer that is staring back at us. 

—Part one of a two-part series.
May 20, 2018