Last Saturday I had another chance to share with others my experiences having others share their lives with me. I was honored to present at the Bemidji Public Library, which generously sponsored my presentation, “Voices of the South.”
I appreciate those who came out to learn from (and connect with) these other voices from our world.
Indeed, one of the main lessons I took away from my interactions with US Southerners this past summer was learned not by what they shared, but in how we corresponded.
I realized that when simply asking questions of others we seek to know, and being open to honest answers–whether from a self-proclaimed redneck, a Southern state politician, an African American senior, or a single mom of five in an economically depressed area–we can enjoy a place of neutrality and rich connectedness.
I heard all sorts of unsavory things from people in the South: racism, criticism & cynicism, foul language, fear & hatred. But as I did, I simply recognized such traits or expressions (along with all their positive, heart-warming qualities) as a part of who they were, not highlights or definitions of their character to react to and be offended by. I enjoyed a comfort allowing me the space to discover these individuals, an interactivity deeper than judgement.
This contrasts what I encounter online.
As the waves of this political season continue to roll, we have ready chances to observe the opposite of this kind of neutrality. Articles about the election, voting recount efforts, and so on offer wheel-spinning opinions and commenting sections, where folks locate an easy target for criticism and attack. This is to the applause of those who are like-minded and to the consternation of those in opposition–who offer their own low-hanging-fruit derogatory articles and comments. And ’round and ’round we go.
These online examples also contrast the approach of Saturday’s Bemidji audience, who listened intently to the stories and watched the interviews of the Southerners. Certainly at times there were philosophical clashes between speaker and listener. But there remained an openness, acceptance, curiosity, and appreciation for who these subjects were. How refreshing it was to be in such a room! I’ll reiterate my pleasure and gratitude to bask in it with Saturday’s attendees.
And I’m guessing many of you were in such a space last week as well. Thanksgiving is celebrated by most in the US. And like most major holidays, it often involves family gathering. How do you receive family–specifically, those with opinions or actions that cross lines you wouldn’t cross? If you’re like me, you don’t react to such breaches from family as we might when hearing about similar actions from strangers. We know our family, so we tend to do a better job appreciating the whole person, seeing them as who they are, and relating with them with a connectedness beyond that which we have with strangers.
We can’t treat or approach all people like family, but these relations do offer a model for how we can connect with others deeper than knee-jerk reactivity, deeper than judgement.
I’d love to share my experiences in the South (or other regions of the world) with your community. If you–or your city library, church, school, etc.–would be interested in hosting such an event, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.