See Beyond Yourself [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Rounding the bend en route to Fort Atkinson we passed this billboard. It stands, not in church yard, but in a small grassy patch, a teeny tiny park.

prayer [noun]: a solemn request for help or an expression of thanks addressed to a deity or other object of worship.

This morning as I pondered what to write I was struck by this: I took the sign to be a solemn request for help. It never occurred to me that the sign might be an entreaty for thanks giving.

The United States is by far the single most individualistic country on the planet. We place the accent on the individual over the communal. Our hyper-focus on the individual has a nasty side effect. It makes us a bit more than narcissistic. We over-worry about how we  look. We create things like Facebook so we can talk about ourselves. We define success as climbing over the bodies of others to reach the top. We extend to corporations the rights of the individual.  Dog eat dog. Every man/woman for themselves. We’ve created a long-running “reality tv” show called Survivor. We relate to it.

These are expressions of who we are. Manifest Destiny and all of that…

And then we wonder why our elected representatives act [or do not act] based on their re-election chances rather than on the real needs of their constituents. We wonder why we fight to the death over ideas like universal health care or placing limits on guns. We wonder why conservatives pundits routinely scream “Socialism!” to frighten their listeners. “They will take away your rights!”

We wonder why we lack empathy. We wonder why our streets are violent.

Empathy requires a look to the other. A consideration beyond the limits of the self. A larger relationship with the other people in the neighborhood. A consideration of an opposing point of view. ‘Nation’ is, after all, a communal word.

Perhaps our ‘nation’ requires something simpler than an appeal for help from a deity: a consideration that what we do impacts others. What we say and how we say it matters. Maybe we should stop asking a deity to do for us what we need to do for ourselves.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAY FOR OUR NATION

 

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Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.