These thoughts are not what I intended to write about. But the more I wrote, the more I felt something was missing. What follows will not address poverty in our region, diminish racial inequity, or enhance educational success in our urban schools, at least not in in the short run. But before we embark on crusades to change what’s wrong with others, we need to take a hard look at ourselves.

Our country is at a dangerous crossroad.  It’s a challenge to separate truth from fiction, decide what the common good really means, or understand difference as something other than a threat to our livelihood. How did we get derailed from ourselves and each other with such ferocity? What can we do to change the trajectory of a society that condones caustic zingers, sound bite platitudes, us against them mentalities, and raging refusal to compromise at any cost?

When everyone feels threatened, our notion of community suffers. The problem is that we are all wounded. Picking at our scabs in our rush to heal only deepens the hurt and the sense of injustice piled upon us…all of us. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been conditioned into oppressor roles or classified into target roles, we’ve had our share of both. And get this: There is no hierarchy to oppression. If I think my hurt is worse than your hurt, or vice versa, we are back to square one, which is the stalemate we’re in today.

Our human minds and bodies are designed to heal, to be resilient and to see the possibilities in the moment before us. But that takes time. And it takes someone to be there for us. In our fast-paced, task-oriented world, we cope by blocking out the very feelings that are designed to aid us in the healing process. We don’t take time to share, to listen, to be vulnerable, and to admit that we need help. Think about the stigma surrounding mental health and you’ll get the point. We’d rather hide our hurts or numb them out than open up to one another. If we are courageous or needy enough to ask for help, we run the risk of hearing the  sarcastic retort of today: “tell me about it.”

We’ve lost touch with what it means to be in relationship, with ourselves and with one another. We’ve lost touch with our connection to nature and to life itself. We are interdependent beings surrounded by a world of rugged individualists.

 Here are some tough questions to grapple with. They require us to slow down, think, feel the feelings, admit the pain and discover its source.  Am I living life fully, or living in pretense? Do I express gratitude, appreciation and a sense of awe for the wonders around me? Do I judge my worth by how much I produce or by what the outside world tells me is worthy? Am I truly happy? Where do I numb out to get by? Do I have meaningful relationships?

Having a strong faith tradition or a spiritual source is helpful. It anchors us in the importance of welcoming the stranger, a core feature of many faith traditions. But having faith is not a requirement. What is required is the ability to heal through communion and connection with others.

This is not to say we should wait to address issues at the macro level until our personal relationships are healthy. We can do both, knowing we have much to learn and much to unburden. I dare say it will change the way we see ourselves and the way we relate to others. We do not need the final answer. We only need a next step.

We enrich ourselves by extending our horizons to people, groups and ideas outside our familiarity. As we make peace with ourselves and with one another, the lines of difference that were once so polarizing would diminish. What we’d  find instead is an extension of ourselves…another human being with similar wants, needs and yearnings.

I want to see your humanness. I want you to experience my humanness. Then I’d not let fear keep me from speaking out at injustice perpetrated against you. This is what will bind us in kinship, gloriously messy as that may be.   

—Steven Jarose
February 4, 2018