If you’ve never seen Elizabeth Lesser speak, you’re in for a real treat. Have a look.
Her talk made me think about my own divided self.
On the one hand, if I want to be true to values I cherish, I have to live as tolerantly as possible. A good example of me being open to difference is the relationship I have with a Mike, the fellow who lives next door to my mother and a guy I always like to spend time with when I’m visiting in the little town of Big Spring in West Texas.
Mike and I are totally different in just about every way you can imagine. He’s spent his life doing very physical work in the great outdoors, and I have earned my living inside, in classrooms, where I use my brain more than my muscles. He joined the military and loves guns and hunting and such things. I, conversely, enlisted in the Peace Corps and am a pacifist who fiercely advocates for stricter gun control. He watches FOX news and I regularly read very progressive websites. As you might guess, we are polar opposites when it comes to most political subjects.
Still, every time I visit my mom, I spend time with Mike, often shooting the breeze while we sit on his front porch. For a little variety, we occasionally load up in his pickup truck and drive to a Tex-Mex restaurant for an evening meal of enchiladas and frijoles. Every time we participate in such an outing, we are putting Lesser’s “initiative” to the test.
On the other hand, I know that Mike is very likely a fan of Donald Trump and those of his ilk. I certainly have heard him say things that were very Trumpish. When he does so, I always squirm and feel extremely uncomfortable. That part of me that champions tolerance argues that I should look past what he’s said and focus on those aspects of his personality that are good. Plus, I was raised by old-fashioned parents who instilled in me the importance of being polite. As a result, I find it very difficult to confront others even when they say things that offend me. I suppose this turning of a blind eye is a kind of goodness. Keeping my mouth shut, though, always makes me feel like a sellout.
Getting back to Lesser’s talk, I’d like to add one suggestion to her list of guidelines to follow when taking “the other” to lunch. When you’re with that person, look for common ground—it could be something as simple as an activity you both enjoy doing—and build on it. In my case, Mike and I both grew up in Big Spring, Texas, and we’ve found, over the years, that it’s possible to spend hours talking about our fondest recollections of the place. This sense of shared history has brought us much closer together than we otherwise would have been.
As Lesser correctly points out, these truly are dangerous times. There is way too much “otherizing” going on right now. If we’re not careful, bigotry can become all-consuming and then we’ll find ourselves in a dark place, one hard to escape from.