Shortly before my older daughter departed for two years of study with the famous violin pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki in Matsumoto, Japan, an acquaintance leaned into my car window in the carpool pickup line and said, “You’ll richly deserve it if she comes home with a slant-eyed husband. Every one of her birthday parties have had the politically correct racial mix!”
I’ll never be sure if it was shock or socially appropriate upbringing that kept me from capturing her nose in the car window or slapping her face, which reflected the ugly audacity of her remark. I do know that I managed to retort, “Those children were her friends!”
The ugliness came roaring back to me today as news reports magnify the current damnable rhetoric. There is visceral recall of the stinging pain of those words; of the sadness and the fury I felt at knowing that despite the world of multiculturalism that so greatly enriched our lives as a family, I could not protect my children or their future children from the kind of hate that would make such a statement.
I’m one of those crazy idealists who believe the Disney message: “It’s a small world after all.”
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It is more than idealism. I have known it as the instruments of an orchestra blending to produce a sound that is beyond the beauty any one might produce alone; I have known it as individuals on an athletic team set their solo aspirations aside and come together to produce a winning team.
I have known it as a consultant experiencing the deep conversations of organizations in conflict came to understanding and then negotiated decisions for the good of all.
It is such moments that led me to and keep me working at Talking Together: Getting Beyond Polarization Through Civil Dialogue. It is encouraging that there are those who choose to enter into practicing conversation with the “other,” with people who make them uncomfortable.
And as I encounter the fear that stops the possibility of conversation, I know how much work we have to do to embrace an idea of “small world” lest our fears lead us to the kinds of hateful words that cross the wrong person at the wrong time and lead us to extinction.
That’s my fear, as I encounter the fears of others. Fear of losing some imagined status that puts one higher on an imaginary ladder of humanity than others. Fear of losing opportunity. Fear that there aren’t enough resources to go around. Fear of “otherness” that was inherited from generations before and never rationally examined for validity. Fear of not being good enough that hides behind extreme words and behaviors.
People are saying the ugliest things. And this time around, I’m beyond shock and ready to speak back. It is past time to dig deep inside ourselves and begin to speak and behave as civilized human beings, privileged beyond imagination, who have the ability to stop this rapidly escalating slide into a madness from which there is no escape.
It will require us each to be willing to choose to stop participating in hateful words and actions. To own our fears. To look toward the bright possibility of embracing a “small world” in which we respect the worth and dignity of every person.
To break our silence. The “or else” is too awful to contemplate. And if that awful “or else” comes, each of us who has stood by without doing our part to say “enough!” — to move beyond politics, religious differences and personal ideologies to caring for the future of our world will have been complicit.
In our silence is our ugliness. Let us begin — now — to speak the words of inclusivity, justice and peace.
Kay Collier McLaughlin is an author and leadership consultant who lives in Nicholas County. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.