Us vs. Them

Over the weekend I listened to several episodes of Ted talks Daily, and I noticed a striking similarity in each of them and what they were suggesting would be the best ways to solve serious problems in our world. And, yes, it does involve talking, but not in the talking on the front porch between myself and my best friend approach, but a different one.

Let me Explain

One of the ED episodes was about world peace. Another was about eliminating hatred in the world, focusing on racism. The speaker was Sally Kohn, author of the book The Opposite of Hate that will be released in AprilAnother was about education and the importance of encouraging disadvantaged youth to read by the way they are treated in the classroom and community. Another was about the criminal justice system, and how it does little or nothing to encourage and support rehabilitation. And the last talk I listened to was about the injustices toward women and children and what could be done about ridding the world of those atrocities by Musimbi, Kanyoro CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

The common thread that ran through all of the talks was that if we could cross lines that separate us into “we and others” “us and them” and find common bonds, we could eliminate so many of the world problems.

Talk With Someone Else on Their Front Porch

One of the first black people that I ever saw was a woman who worked at my all white Catholic school. She cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and cleaned the offices. Most of the four years that I attended that school, I walked right past her without a look or a word of greeting, as if she were invisible. It’s not that I wasn’t aware that she was there. In my mind she was reduced to “something else.” Somebody below me in stature, even though I came from a poor white family who probably did not have as much at home as she did. But that thought never crossed my mind.

I just Thought she was Lesser, so I Dismissed Her

After graduation I worked for a short time at a riding stable as a trail rider. This stable was in the heart of downtown Detroit on a recreational place called Belle Isle. One of the other trail riders was a young black man, probably not much older than I was, and he rode a dark bay horse. He was very friendly, and at first I was a little wary of his friendliness. That black woman who cleaned my high school had never spoken to me.  I’d never had a black person speak to me in my life.

But his engaging smile and offers to help me as a newcomer to the stable soon overcame my wariness, and we became friends. He wasn’t the sort of friend that I would take home because my family was still fairly racist, but I could enjoy his companionship and his friendship at the stable.

The first time I realized our friendship was really strong was one time when he came back to the stable on his trail horse, and I looked at him and realized that he was the exact same color as his dark bay horse. I smiled and said, “Look at that dark bay man astride his mighty steed.”

It was such a spontaneous outburst, I wasn’t sure how he would react. Would he see it as an insult? Would he be offended? I wanted to take the words back, but I couldn’t. Suddenly, he burst out in laughter, almost falling off his horse, and I knew everything was okay.

That incident is what what I think of when I hear all of the talk about “crossing the lines.” Finding the commonality between us instead of pushing people away and keeping the chasm that creates all of the hatred and bigotry in the world as wide as it has always been.

In one small effort in one small corner of the world, the Diocese of Dallas instituted a program some years ago, in an effort to cross some of those lines. That program introduced us who lived in primarily white neighborhoods, attending churches where the color of faces all around us were white, to colors of faces that were black and brown. The program partnered the churches in the suburbs with inner-city churches and invited delegations of parishioners to attend services in those other places of worship. We even went to churches that were not Roman Catholic. We experienced the wonderful music of the Spanish and the African-American congregations, and the many different ways we can worship. That is, once we got over our hesitation of stepping out of our comfort zone.

And that’s what the speakers in these Ted talks were encouraging all of us to think about. Could we step out of comfort zones? Could we rise above the status quo? Could we look deep into ourselves and realize that we do harbor thoughts of racism thoughts of exclusion?

And are we willing to do the hard work of changing those thoughts and the behaviors those thoughts prompt?

I’m trying. How about you?

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