Perhaps it’s just that the weather in the Northeast has broken a bit and hints of spring abound, symbolic reminders of periodic renewal with tender sprouts pushing through the cold soils of a seemingly endless winter.
Maybe it’s just me. But, multiple conversations over the past few days have been flavored with a sense of anticipation—not just for the annual rite of spring, but in our social interactions as well–hope, sprinkled with just a touch of dread. Is there something coming? What might it be?
I am prompted to think about two questions often asked by my good friend Sam Simon, long-time media justice advocate and more recently—in his “retirement”—as writer, producer and actor in the powerful autobiographical one-man play, The Actual Dance.
Sam often asks, What are we right before? The context that prompts his question is not the gentle blossoming of springtime flowers, but its polar opposite: the holocaust wrought by Nazi Germany in the middle of the last century. As a Jew with European lineage, Sam has powerful connections to this unspeakable horror. Reacting to thoughtful visits to death camps in Poland and Germany, he imagines the social, cultural and political issues of the 1930’s; and while the context is more than awful, the hope in his question lies in the need to be attentive to what is happening in our time so that we do not repeat a moment when our inhumanity to one another plunged to new depths. What are the danger signs of such a recurrence in our world? Who are the groups fallen victim to fear and violence prompted by bigotry? Who are the perpetrators of hate? How can we act in ways that will keep such horrors as the Third Reich from ever repeating?
Sam’s second question: Who is not here yet? This often-unasked question can serve as a pointed commentary on our well-intentioned (usually liberal) circles where we pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion. We (especially privileged, straight white males) are too often seduced by the strides we make in expanding our circles while remaining blind to those we exclude. Worse, while we often invite minority—especially marginalized—voices into the conversation, we then notoriously silence these participants by failing to heed the perspectives they share, especially if those views shatter conventional norms and put us off our guard.
The operative (and hopeful) word in Sam’s second question is the word “yet,” implying that someone else is to join us. Who is that someone? What perspectives will they bring to the discussion? How can we really listen and then develop an action plan based on their points of view.
I’ve spent the past several months engaging audiences around the country in facilitated dialogues based on my book, Beyond the Comma. A recurring topic is how to hold conversations across lines of difference in a day when there is so much division. Among the salient points in these discussions is the need for active listening, to really understand what is being shared rather than focusing on your own response even before the other finishes speaking. An oft-repeated comment is how those engaged in such conversations are acting courageously.
That said, we can easily fall into the trap of being satisfied simply that we’ve gathered into diverse groups—without holding ourselves accountable to outcomes. It would be as if the flowers welcomed the warmth of springtime sunshine but were indifferent about whether or not to bloom.
There seems to be a bit of a lull in the frenetic pace of headlines out of Washington, DC (or maybe I’m just numb to the pace of news). Maybe the whole nation is taking a breath in anticipation of the season’s change (though our friends in the upper Midwest are still in the throes of fierce winter weather). Who knows what is ahead? Are there persons outside our circles desperate to become part of the conversation? Who are they? Why have they been excluded? What is our responsibility to include them?
I am convinced that if we couple Sam’s two questions—combining a look to the future,“What are we right before?” with a candid examination of the present, “Who is not here yet?” we can construct a more holistic future for all, including those surprising voices from unexpected sources. If we then create safe spaces where all can have agency in decision-making, we can take advantage of this season of expectation and shape a future in ways that deepen human interactions and intensify the promise of spring.
Due to server problems, my web site, robertjchase.com, was unexpectedly down for about five hours on Wednesday. This means that you may have missed an important new addition to the site—a promotional video about how I can help you and your organization bring healing and wholeness in our fractured world. You can see the video here. I apologize for any inconvenience. B