Thursday, June 23, 2016

Part II of III: The Way It’s Supposed To Be (Continued)

Again I state what may now be obvious.

The following is Part 2 of 3 (see Part I here), excerpted from my book in progress titled The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard: How Communities Come Apart and How They Heal. The focus of the following essay is on the Coffee House Conversations. My method of writing books means that what follows may be the basis for a chapter, or it may not. However, if it is, it is likely to be much changed by the time it gets into book form which may be as early as Fall, 2016.  We shall see.

But there is no reason now to hold back what is in the works that can spur your thinking and assist your exploration of this blog site as well as the other two for which I write and my two online radio shows.  I want us to have inspiring discussions that can lead to social and political change. That is why I offer this to you. And at what better time than the present when we are awash in political crises every where you turn

Enjoy, expand and write me, personally, now and again at, or post your comments directly onto my blog sites or radio show web sites.

The Way It’s Supposed To Be: Part II

Excerpted from 
The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard:
How Communities Come Apart and How They Heal

December 15, 2015 -- Continued from Part I

What was the whole Coffee House Conversations project about anyway, if not to build bridges, not impenetrable walls?  But these encounters were definitely not “IT” by any stretch of the imagination. They exemplified debate at its worst extreme; anger and hostility carried to the point of abusiveness; a far cry from the peace building agenda we had in mind. But at least they were saying something of their views and for that I was grateful.

So when another round of the same seemed to arise, I gave the tension between An-Nur and myself my best knowhow, leaning in to hear and understand her anguish as much as I could.  Leaning in had grown to be a pledge in my mind, made to my heart. Or, had it been the other way around; a pledge of my heart with my head full of training, skills and experience to see my way through challenges like this? But try as I might, the effort this time had taken a toll, as it had on the previous two occasions, leaving me, soon again, feeling beaten up, attacked and abused.  

What gave me strength was that I had a vision, rooted in my Jewish heritage and my will to stand by what I believed, that we could surmount difficulties such as this, no matter how challenging, if everyone was determined to work things through. With that in mind I would do whatever I could to help lift this present tirade out of the sinking, stinking mud pulling it down and do my best to reach for the high ground

Quickly doing my best to quell that which seemed to be escalating, I set my mind to protecting this cherished space, An-Nur, the others present, the ideals of the Coffee House Conversations project and me, without too much blood shed, experiencing myself almost instantaneously summoning hidden reserves. Time was of the essence here, as a potentially out of control situation loomed in a time and space set aside for peace, hope and unity; a sanctuary for the arduous work of gathering collective dreams and considering the best ways to make them come true.

This wasn’t the first time, however, that the high minded intent of our Coffee House Conversations project had seemed to tarnish. But, as it would turn out, this was the one that in the midst of its corrosion, would come through the alchemical process, refining the lead of it to a higher quality, even gold perhaps.  Other complications before this, as we had adventured through the year, had been subtle. Some had shown signs of a slight refinement proportionate to the difficulties themselves and the challenges of untangling them.  Unfortunately these opportunities had been the exception.

One hurdle that was meaningful to me – and – that had gotten worked through, had to do with a gentleman who was an aide to our local County Executive. I felt particularly pleased to have him in attendance at numerous of our events, particularly so, as although he came representing the County Executive, he is also a man of distinction in his own right; someone you might expect to someday be County Executive himself or City Mayor.

That particular hitch had to do with his calling me out for publicly stating that I didn’t like Mr. Obama as president. Richard, I will name him here for our discussion, chastised me for acting politically incorrect, especially in public in my role as leader.  I, in turn, continued our repartee by suggesting that I had consciously chosen to insert that bit of potential controversy that might invite civil disagreement. If people could be adept at dialogue which Richard apparently could, such tangles as this could become teachable moments; opportunities for collective growth and expansion. 

After a few rounds of word play, eventually he and I did come to a common and comfortable ground, I thought, dialoguing on the significance of people needing to learn to speak truth to power as a viable and necessary methodology for developing healthy, sustainable communities; the goal I originally had in mind to demonstrate with my “indelicate” comments. However, both of us were skilled communicators so we apparently had some ease in getting through our tangle.

But there were other incidents; most that I caught as I saw them flying by but did not have the time, at the moment, to hold onto and follow through as I had on the one involving Richard. Conflict resolution, or as New Horizons likes to call it, working through everyday interferences in interpersonal human relations. This takes time. It is the rare, very rare, in fact, person who will make the time to take up the skill development necessary to achieve proficiency in even reaching for truth and reconciliation. 

Especially not in our fast-paced, internet driven world where hand held devices readily replace genuine people contact. Herein lie the greatest obstacles and challenges to community bridge building; endless time demands, some of them quite frivolous, and a disinterest in genuine, full-bodied connectedness. Even partners, parents and children seem to often prefer to avoid high-intensity interacting and the working through of snags in these closest of relationships.  

What great and wonderful opportunities, unique to humans, are missed this way!

In a setting such as we provide with our Coffee House Conversations some of the most common ways of avoiding leaning in and moving through interpersonal complications to meaningful growth and resolution are: anger, blaming, , judging others, sarcasm, gossip silence and withdrawal of interest or involvement and “othering” (i.e. seeing others as being so outside one’s particular frame of reference as to make any time spent engaging in dialogue or conflict resolution with the “other” as meaningless and as annoying as the nighttime mosquitos).

There was one particular hitch with a participant I was particularly captivated by. 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 because when 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, no change resulted?

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.

Part III, Coming soon

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