We need to talk..
Southerners are storytellers. We love to tell stories, outrageous, convoluted, highly embellished, wandering stories. Always alert for an opening in the conversation, we leap at the chance to insert a favorite story. Stories are part of our that elusive quality, southern charm. For the most part, they are just that; charming. But when we tell them to ourselves, that’s a problem. I know. I spent much of my life doing that.
Stories are often told to curry favor – a blatantly underhanded but sometimes successful, tool to get one’s way. Sometimes we’re just being kind. “What a beautiful baby”, is so much better to hear than, “Do you plan to get cosmetic surgery on that nose?” And sometimes we tell stories to ourselves to keep going thru hardship – that’s called denial. Denial gets a bad wrap these days, but it can be useful on occasion.
But telling myself stories is treacherous, as I have recently been reminded. For years, I have been living in my own comfortable bubble. Sure that all “reasonable” people shared my world view; my concept of right and wrong, my standards of civility and morality.
And then November 8 happened. Like many of us, I was “flattened” by the news and struggled to come to grips with my fear for our country’s future. But many of my friends were ecstatic at the news! Friends with whom I have celebrated, commisserated, shared confidences, assuming that we also shared world views. Confused and impatient with my reaction, they were optomistic for the future; anxious to put behind an era in which they felt forgotten and marginalized. How could I had been so deaf to the people around me? Consumed by my own “busyness,” secure in my own little bubble. Blithely assuming they shared my beliefs, because, well, they’re my friends!
On the first day of English literature class at Berkeley, the professor announced, peering over his black rimmed seventies glasses at us “I’m going to threaten every one of your core beliefs. I am going to challenge everything you hold dear.”
It was a moment I will not forget. Still today I remember the cold terror, the icy knot in my stomach. I see myself in the semi-circle of
one-armed desks, cornered, threatened; that country girl from Louisiana, outclassed by the sophisticated kids from Eastern prep schools. I gripped the edge of the desk, fighting the urge to bolt from the room. But I couldn’t leave; I needed the credits. So I stayed, bracing myself for 10 weeks of rancor and humiliation.
But instead, the course introduced me to different ways of viewing the world. Far from feeling defensive, I was fascinated to learn how other people, other cultures, came to believe as they did. And it turned out at the core, I wasn’t all that different from those fresh faced kids. We agreed more than we disagreed on most important things.I actually made new friends. During those weeks I discovered that some of what I “believed,” I had simply absorbed from people around me without much thought. But most of what I believed was not changed; just the opposite! A deeper, more critical understanding only strengthened them. And most importantly, I learned I could live in harmony with those with whom I did not agree; and they with me.
If there had been a good alternative to facing the perceived threat of English 101, I would have grabbed it. And missed a formative educational experience on which I would rely many times in my life, an experience not to be missed. It’s a small, oversimplified example. But it illustrates the point. As families, communities, as a country, I hope, I pray we can face our fear of confrontation, talk and listen thoughtfully. I think we will be rewarded by the outcome. I refuse to believe we are a country of self-righteous pedants or unthinking bigots. We are bigger than that.
But first –
We need to talk. We really have no choice.
Instead of a book, this week I’m posting a link to an outstanding and timely Ted Talk by Rob Willer on the art of civil and productive conversation between liberals and conservatives. A must read. Here’s the link. http://bit.ly/2kdTjNw
7 thoughts on “We need to talk..”
You keep getting better and better. I really enjoyed this one.
Thanks. You’re too kind!
I agree with above comment! Draws one in, coherent storyline and great punchline!
Thanks for your comment!
I think the first step to talking is NOT TO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS! Never assume that people have the same views as you. Liberals and conservatives generally want the same things – the economy and inner city unemployment, for example. Jobs versus government programs.
I am so surprised at the closed-mindedness of my liberal friends, and the nastiness. And I’m someone who’s always been independent, voted twice for Jesse Jackson, twice for Obama, believe in one payer system, etc. I would have voted for Bernie, I always thought Hillary was a very poor candidate. So if I express these reservations to a Hillary supporter, they are personally hurt. So I say nothing. And it’s worse for my friends who were lifelong liberals but went for Trump.
My husband is a Bernie socialist, two of my three best friends went Trump. One campaigned for Obama’s first campaign, but was so turned off by his rhetoric against the business world, against cops, how he seemed to be on the side of the criminals. And I’m speaking as someone who’s lived in really hostile NY neighborhoods, and as a matter of fact, spent the summer in Providence, a refugee city with a very bad undocumented immigrant gang culture. Providence is extremely dangerous, and certain streets you don’t even drive on, because there is no heed to traffic regulations, etc. The crime problem in Providence is almost 100% related to immigration issues.
These are facts, I have never lived in a bubble. My father had a Jesuit education, and taught us to listen to all sides, and to question everything, and never make assumptions. I have no problem with my friends who voted differently than I, I truly respect political freedom.
I will listen to the Ted talk, but I have been studying this issue for a long time. I have tried to publish on the issue in the literary world, and was solicited for a piece in an anthology, but it was too honest, as above, and they quashed it. Those who’ve experienced literary censorship sometimes have no way of expressing ourselves but in the voting booth.
Precisely. I rest my case.