Building bridges instead of walls

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Oct 04, 2019

I recently read a column in another paper where, after saying something or other about "mankind," the columnist commented something similar to, "Sorry, Snowflake, you can take your crayons and run to your safe room, if you don't like 'mankind.' Actually, I'm not really sorry, anyway."

And I thought, wow, why the need to be so snarky? If you want to say "mankind" in your column instead of "men and women" or "all people" or "humankind," fine; go ahead. But there's no need to be nasty about it, or to relish the image of some reader's being offended by your choice of words.

And then I remembered the last column I wrote, which advised: "If you are of the 'America, love it or leave it' persuasion, you might want to stop reading now." So, in a less extreme way, I'm guilty, too.

Why do we want to turn away readers who might disagree with us? Why do we want to read only that which confirms us in our comfortable worldview? I'm not sure, but I wonder if it has to do with the loss of a sense of shared values in our communities and our country, the lack of a feeling of belonging. When you don't belong anywhere, you feel vulnerable, alone, like no one has your back.

I remember when I first came to the Midcoast being impressed with the way people seemed to support and take care of each other. And to some extent, that is still true. But it feels like there aren't as many people and institutions to turn to when life gets hard. And it also feels like people are harder, less willing to overlook differences in the name of common interests and common humanity.

I don't know what to do about this, except to try to act differently myself. I will not invite readers who might disagree with me to stop reading before they get offended. If they're offended, they can write me a letter about it. Maybe we will be able to have a dialog, maybe not, but we might at least gain some new information from the exchange.

Feeling threatened by disagreement is a sign that we don't trust each other. And without trust, social interaction becomes much more difficult, and can even break down. Unfortunately, the only way to develop trust is to take at least a small step outside what's comfortable and -- trust. Trust that your gesture won't be in vain, and that if the first attempt bears no fruit, the second or third or 10th one will.

I have to trust that, at heart, we do share the values of cooperation, kindness, freedom of conscience, mutual aid, love of home and family. We may express those values differently, but after many centuries of human society, they are ingrained in us. It is both the beauty of our differences and the familiarity of what we have in common that gives me hope.

A lovely example of this happened just last week. I ran into a friend in the grocery store, a man whose political views I know are quite different from mine. We chatted for a moment or two, and said he enjoyed reading my column in the paper. "I don't agree with everything you say, but I appreciate the spirit behind it," he said. What a kind, generous thing to say! I was very grateful for his gesture, and I let him know it.

Casting my proverbial bread upon the waters can feel risky, but I believe it's the only way to begin the process of building trust, which is the bedrock of healthy, functional relationships, whether civic or familial, with friends or coworkers.

I pray for the courage to reach out, not papering over differences, but simply putting them in perspective. I'm a liberal, you may be a conservative, but we are both humans in a world described prophetically by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin as "too dangerous for anything but truth, too small for anything but love."

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 04, 2019 13:06

Encouraging/challenging article, Sarah.  I am hoping that some of our local faith congregations have a fire in their belly so another year does not go by without a Community Inter-Faith Thanksgiving Service.  

"I pray for the courage to reach out, not papering over differences, but simply putting them in perspective. I'm a liberal, you may be a conservative, but we are both humans in a world described prophetically by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin as "too dangerous for anything but truth, too small for anything but love."  "



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