Are we practising segregationists? Segregation defined as the act or practice of segregating; a setting apart or separation of people or things from others. In the not so distant past, I surrounded myself with like-minded folks who held and espoused the same views of ideas, policies, and people. While a scary practice, it becomes critical and unhealthy when the like-minded crowd out everyone else and sound walls of similarity are constructed to keep ‘them’ and ‘their nonsense’ out of sight and sound. I was comfortable defining people by how they differed from me and couldn’t/wouldn’t consider making a crack in the wall to let the freshness of something new or different in.
I watched my tribe grow organically, like a Persistent organic pollutant (POP) defying any degradation of its power with stubbornness and vitriol. I used energy; kinetic, physical and emotional to hold different opinions at bay and resisted considering possibilities, even when I could feel the glimmer of dishonesty and see the light of inconsistency in my position. I set myself apart from others who were different and surrounded myself with folks who conformed to my ideals and confirmed my ideas. We were diverse in age, race, and economic conditions but marched in lockstep to policies and positions that we hadn’t necessarily given the proper consideration to.
My observation is that segregationists exist at all places on the political spectrum; left, right, and center. Ideology around religious, environmental, economic, and social fictions are strong regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, age. We all draw close to people who ‘do things the right way’. We like people who are like us. and consequently and unfortunately we don’t easily like people who aren’t like us; unless we make a concerted and committed effort.
The effort to openness is enormous. We have been shunning those who are different from us (in any/many ways) for 70,000 years. When Homo Sapiens started creating community and culture they needed to create a common narrative – a Sapien fiction that allowed and justified unearned trust. As we began to live more complex and crowded lives, we redoubled the narrative. The Sapien fiction allowed them to usurp and probably slaughter other homo species of the day. Millenia later we are still separating ourselves, within one species, into groups based on the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world we live in.
What would happen if we took a slightly different approach? What if we allowed a 10-degree reorientation to take place? If I was open to 10% of what makes someone else different from me, would I be a different person? better? yes. possibly.
When I am willing to shift 10 degrees from my stubborn fiction and the person in front of me shifts the same, we have less distance between our stories and might be close enough to see where they overlap.
Imagine a centrist Democrat ( Jack) meeting a centrist Republican (Jill). Under most circumstances, they may not give each other the time of day on issues of health care, taxation, or immigration. If Jack shifts their position towards Jill’s by 10 degrees and she does the same, they may both realise that they want what is best for most people and only differ on tactics. Once the chasm narrows, there seems to be greater willingness to listen, if not appreciate to someone else’s opinion. Curiousity to understand builds bridges while asking questions in order to overpower builds walls.
How do I more consistently become an integrationist? How do I hold strong views strongly and still be willing to hear other fictions? Maybe this fable by Dorothy Colleen is a guide.
The Oak and the Willow, a fable
In a field, there was an oak at one end, and a willow-tree at the other.
Whenever a wind moved through the field, the willow swayed in the wind, while the oak remained unmoved.
When this happened, the willow said to itself, “I wish I was as strong as the Oak, instead of bending over with every breeze“ then one day a large windstorm whipped through the field.
When the storm passed, and the darkness lifted, the willow looked across the field, and was shocked to discover that the oak was laying on the ground, broken. When the Gardener came into the field, the willow said, “Oh sir, what happened to the Oak? How is it that I survived the storm, weak as I am, and the Oak fell?”
The Gardener said, “Oh little willow-tree, do you not understand what happened? When the winds blow, you bend with them, while the oak remains still. So when a really powerful wind comes along, you can bend with the wind, and survive it. But the Oak cannot bend, and so if the wind is strong enough, it will break. For the Oak had a secret, a weakness within that no one looking at the outside could see. And the Gardener went on his way, leaving the willow to ponder what he said.
Moral: Strength within and strength without are not the same, and one should cultivate strength within first. Also, when the winds of life blow, bend, and you may survive the real storms when they come. Try and resist them, and when the real storms come, you may break instead.