Category Archives: Public Discourse

A Time for Striving To Understand Our Neighbor

 

From my point of view, it has always been essential to understand the thinking of our neighbor’s. I am not saying that it is a common practice or that I am good at it.  And I do believe that to appreciate how others feel about being ‘included’ or ‘not so included’ in the community is a big part of what it takes to make a community. To be aware of their view of the future and possibility that may lie ahead for them, their family or their friends.

Now, in February of 2017, it is becoming more and more clear to many of us that we don’t have access to our ‘neighbors’ thinking other than through parody or even mockery.

I have been looking for accessible voices of those that might be able to help me understand how it is that so many of my American ‘neighbors’ choose to support Donald Trump.

We benefit from living in East Lansing: and one of the many benefits is that each February, at MSU, there is the Slavery to Freedom lecture series open to the entire community.  It is a tremendous resource! Last week’s speaker was Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, MSNBC contributor, and he made several excellent points provoking thought and discussion.  The comment that stuck with me is when he challenged us all to seek out voices other than the voices that we agree with in an attempt to learn more, understand more and appreciate more.

Jonathan has a podcast, Cape Up and as I was listening to some of his interviews, I came across this recent one.   Arthur Brooks explains on January 24th how dignity links Trump to Obama.  I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I started to think a little deeper than I had been about how others chose to vote for Trump.

Go to iTunes, or whatever you get your podcasts and search for Cape Up and then listen to Jonathan’s conversation with Arthur Brooks from January 24, 2017.

To anybody who wants to explore a thoughtful new podcast, I recommend Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart.

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Being an Other-fucused Person Can Contribute Greatly to the Common Good!

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E. Quinn (2000)

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like a government) moves forward, backward or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might, in fact, be changeable. Also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

 

This book is ambitious and, as a result, paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to contribute to and impact groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and, therefore, his change method is not the norm. He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people.

 

Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

 

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Probes and Questions Can be Valuable to Expand Learning

Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams

The title is straightforward and true, both from my experience and from watching others that are excellent at asking good questions. Not questions to ‘trip people up’ – but questions that help to further everyone’s understanding of the topic. On one level, this concept of ‘changing your questions will change your life’ sounds one dimensional and I am here to tell you that Marilee Adams’ message is complex and daunting. Daunting because just wanting to make this kind of change is just a beginning. It can be a challenging and very proactive journey. I recommend this book to folks who are intentional about self-growth. For anyone who wants to contribute to groups in positive ways and who wants grow and learn – this is a good read!Change_your_questions_change

This is a great read!!!!!

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Solacers: a memoir by Arion Golmakami

I really loved this book! Golmakami voice brings a captivating depth to his early life’s journey.

It is written with courage, honesty, love, and hope. The boy’s life story is unnervingly entrancing and depressing while also being dramatically fascinating due to his resolve to keep on keeping on. This memoir tells the story of an Iranian boy who becomes an abandoned child as a preschooler. This makes him an orphan. It is complicated because both of his parents are alive and have families they are raising, yet he is not a part of either of their families. Conditions get arranged from time to time to attempt to have him housed, yet he is absolutely abandoned emotionally, physically and financially.

You will want to read this book because this little boy is resourceful, observant and loving – even with the isolation and hardship he is facing. He is a boy with dreams: Dreams that most anyone would discount as impossibly unreasonable. Those dreams and some good fortune allowed him to survive. Yes, survive, there were many real threats to him that could have led to his end.

As you read, be prepared for hardship, disaster, pain, desperation and unfulfilled promise. And be willing to envelop yourself in this young boy’s journey. This memoir will allow you to witness an unimaginable passage through childhood. This child’s resilience is tangible.

It was a finalist for Best Nonfiction-Stanford University Libraries- William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2012. Golmakami published this memoir when he was 55 years old and it covers his early years through his 17 year.

Here quotes that I found powerful and want to share.

The author writes: “Why couldn’t I have a home like his (referring to his father) children and my mother’s children?”

“While I never stopped longing for a place to call home, after two years of wondering from place to place, I had come to accept my circumstances and it didn’t matter where I was being taken anymore. At that age (7 years old) I was like water that had been spilled from a fallen pitcher into the ground; all I could do was follow the gravity and hope for a depth large enough to hold me for a while, until such a time that I could grow into a stream of my own and carve my own path through life.”

His is a story of compassionate understanding and with his intentional will to survive. He writes: “There is a unique pleasure found in forgiveness that can never be found in revenge.”

As a ten-year-old,  on his own he explains: “Loneliness, constant hunger, and boredom made every hour of every day weigh a thousand tons.” “Only ten years old and without any money or permanent address to go to, I led the life of an alley cat.” Because of my pride, “I never begged for anything, refused to touch anyone’s food, and asked no one for help.”

Golmakami writes: “I believe those who have spiritually evolved – and by that I do not mean religiously – perceive the world and everyone in it as ‘us,’ as did Momon Bozorg, while the unenlightened souls view the world as ‘me’ and ‘not me,’ while in Momon Bozorg’s spiritually driven view, we were all water of the same ocean separated only by a physical bottle called body.”

Prescription for These Times: A Thousand Acts of Civility

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As a 67 year old guy, who has been in engaged public service for decades, I believe that much can be accomplished when ‘we’ choose to work ‘across differences’ in service to the common good. I have been part of such efforts. I have seen things occur when people have focused on the common good. It can happen!

And today, here in America, it seems that ‘commonality’ is not prized. From my perspective today’s politics are ripe with discord, dysfunction and degradation of others. I agree with Parker J. Palmer when he writes that the politics of today seem to be “intent on dividing us so deeply that there will be no more ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ — and thus no way for us to reach even a rough consensus on the common good to which we can hold our leaders accountable.” He sees hope if we can breathe in new life to ‘We the People’.

I choose to be hopeful. I believe that hope is bigger than fear, discouragement and weariness put together. I also believe that action is better than inaction. This is not a time to let frustration immobilize us – We the People! The ‘us’ I refer to is everyone. People who see things differently are willing to struggle toward a better future together.

Palmer has come to the conclusion that: “Though much of our political discourse is toxic, ‘politics’ is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.   Yes, that’s a vision of politics that will never be fully achieved. But every time someone abandons that vision and turns to cynicism, democracy suffers one more wound in the death of a thousand cuts.   Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”

Take a minute to read his entire essay, Breathing New Life into “We the People” and begin your ‘thousand acts of civility’. Begin to re-frame the situations you encounter into opportunities. Opportunities build to relationships were we ‘turn from ire to inquiry’ and all benefit from creative, respectful engagement.