The Way It’s Supposed To Be: Part III
The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard:December 15, 2015 -- Continued from Parts I and II
There was one particular snag with a participant that had really saddened me as I was particularly captivated by him. I will call him Henry Clayman. Henry stole my heart almost from my first meeting with him at our very first Coffee House Conversations event. I remember him as sincere, vulnerable, straightforward, dedicated and articulate with a big heart that almost shone like gold. Once I got to know and interact with him I felt I would do anything for him. And, from his side he pledged to always get my back and I believed him without conditions like I had rarely ever done.
But Henry had gone away, I am sad to say, never even letting me know why he had “fired” me as his friend and mentor. Was I “othered” because of my whiteness up against his African American Black?
Whatever the real reason, this much I do know: As Freddie Gray lay dying in Baltimore, in another situation of police brutality to a young Black man and Baltimore, correspondingly, erupted in a blaze of violent protest, Henry stopped talking to me; another one of those dialogue blockers -- silence. Was he disappointed in me about the time I took him to our local Human Relations Commission to make a complaint, having to with his perception of negligence on the part of our local county toward the African American community, with no change resulting?
Or was it our visit to the Mayor’s office where lip service promises had been tendered him, fooling no one but the Mayor himself, if that? Several months down the road Henry suffered a stroke; possibly because he was so plagued and heartbroken by the racial inequities surrounding him. I guess I will never know because Henry’s not telling; no dialogue, no discussion, no problem solving or bonding opportunity; polarization hangs over our heads instead. Still I did come away with another lesson learned from our Coffee House Conversations; being white, even Jewish American white, is not an easy ticket to bridge building these days, if it ever was.
The New Horizons model, on the other hand, values conflict resolution, seeking common ground as opposed to either-or, black or white thinking – and -- above all, synergy rather than polarization. We define the latter, synergy, as the increased effectiveness resulting when two or more people work well together, even when it’s gut-wrenching hard. When we achieve this state, it is often accompanied by a sense of “awe.” But it takes resources; time, energy, talents and at least some minimal funding to sustain leadership and training efforts; all of which we are presently working to develop. Neither Sue nor myself are much good at fundraising and marketing. And a program such as ours needed both.
Right from the start at our very first Coffee House Conversation, back in January, we kept, along with printed handouts, introducing – and – stressing that the single most essential and practical principle for community development is through meaningful dialogue coupled with seeking win-win problem solving solutions. This means always choosing to lean in toward others, not blocking them as in debate or pulling away in anger, silence, withdrawal or “othering.”
Leaning in skills include listening fully to the others viewpoints with no investment, whatsoever, to doing anything other than respecting them or perhaps inquiring more about what something means to another. Thus we really hear the essence of what is meaningful to the other person. Then, of course, we welcome the same from that other person.
Though we repeated this message again and again and at each event handed out an outline of fundamental principles on choosing to dialogue rather than debate, apparently the message just hadn’t held much weight.
It certainly did turn out to be true that I had been so steeped in planning and organizing from one event to the next that I hadn’t taken enough time, other than a bit now and then, until this uprising with An-Nur, to stand back and assess the overall cumulative gains and losses from what we were doing and find out what I could do to further our agenda and I definitely had not done enough “leaning in.” Now with our 2015 calendar of events complete and the holidays coming on us – and – An-Nur’s apparent upset that was anything but subtle, I would have the leisure to do this. But how, I wondered, under pressure, as her anger seemed to escalate on the spot as she spoke?
Grasping for straws of experience and wisdom in my mind, at last I got hold of one of them and held on to the idea for dear life.
“How about drawing An-Nur’s immediate attention to the handouts I always carried with me to this meeting on “Dialogue versus Debate,” I thought, prompted by urgency.
I did that! And it worked but not easily. Still I held my ground proffering her the fact sheet page I had in hand, repeatedly until she simply surrendered her upset, ready to move beyond it.
“Here, An-Nur,” I said, “Look here at this handout we have shared at each and every one of our events. Look here, you are debating with me, not having a dialogue at all. Nothing can get resolved this way!”
My voice sounded to me like a rant to match hers but I held on still as if my very life depended on it. Maybe in some ways it did, at least the life I had been standing up for in recent years. Then like a Nor’easter blown violent and abruptly stopping as, unexpectedly, An-Nur quieted down; so much so that it seemed as if I could feel her heart reaching out for mine. This was awe for sure!
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing from there forth. But we had survived the storm and we were intact. Just the way it’s supposed to be when hearts and minds reach out to one another in peace and love.
What has come of this to date? Joy of all joys, through this upheaval and its calming Jewish American me made my first Muslim American friend. I hope it lasts a long, long time. Maybe we were now already on our way to truly building a “real” community; one person at a time.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be!
The End (for this piece)