Opinion

Stay Uncomfortable

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I didn’t vote for him but we elected him. We, the people who live in this country. I’m a part of that We and nothing will convince me I’m not. This we-ness is a thing many factions on all sides would like us to forget, yet this we-ness is what makes a country a country. It allows us to learn and grow with each other; it brings us together in joy and sorrow.

Staying angry is a discipline but it’s a necessary discipline in the face of the current political climate and the inauguration of our new President. The discipline of staying angry is in not succumbing to blind rage, in not being angry about everything, in not rejecting ideas and people based solely upon our anger or theirs.

But, I can’t live only on my anger, no matter how righteous I might believe it. I have to allow open doorways where other things can enter.

The vital choice each of us can make has to do with how large our personal We becomes. There is no well-worn path for this, no simple set of bullet points.

It’s about personal connection and personal interaction, conversation, argument, and listening. It’s about how open we can be expressing ourselves and being challenged. It can be as simple as saying hello to people we pass on the street. These interactions are not always comfortable for most of us, but it’s in that discomfort that some value may lie. It’s a discomfort that stretches us and enlarges our world.

The initial work is against isolation: our own and that of others around us.

I’m an introvert by nature. Often, I could go all day without talking to a soul and not miss it. I can be awkward in conversation or, at least, I can feel I am. I’m often afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, offend someone, look stupid.

I’m the one who must expand my We; the spectrum of people I see as a part of my life and myself.

There are people around us now every day who feel threatened and unsafe. They’ve been targeted by the White Nationalist Party (let’s call the current Republican Party what it is) and, very specifically, by the new President. Threatened populations isolate themselves, circle the wagons for safety. They are We.

If we look white, if we look ‘obviously American” (we all know what that means), we must be the ones to cross the barrier, because we’re the ones who erected the barrier in the first place.
It’s not the responsibility of the Othered to come to us; it’s our responsibility to go to them. In whatever way we can.

This doesn’t happen on Facebook. It doesn’t happen on Twitter. It is not achieved by signing a petition or liking a meme. It’s only achieved by being face to face. It can be a conversation—even a smile in passing—but it doesn’t happen in front of a screen.

How do I make a difference? I can make an effort to meet people I might not otherwise meet. Talk with people I might not otherwise talk to. Listen for a moment without voicing my opinion or considering what I’ll say next. No one is asking me to agree with anything anyone says.

How large can I afford to make my world? How crowded can I make it with actual people instead of representations of people on screens? How much can I risk by listening in dynamic, unpredictable conversations? Or even in a simple acknowledgement of another’s existence?

I’ll have to go out of my way. I’ll have to step outside my well-grooved life.

This isn’t happy smiley pretend-to-love-everybody work. It is, like staying angry, a discipline: difficult, demanding. It can be intensely uncomfortable. This discipline, or our good intention, does not protect us from offense, from doing or saying the wrong thing, from making mistakes. I have to accept that I will sometimes do or say the wrong thing.

Even writing this piece is a way of courting disaster.

The White Nationalist Party will continue to put pressure upon our fears and despair. We will be continuously assaulted with news of what and who we should be terrified of. We will be told how threatened and fatally unsafe we are. We will be given pictures and examples of the types of people who should horrify us.

If we are white, if we are ‘obviously American’, we will be told we need to be protected. We will fear differently than those on the other side of the divide, those targeted by the divisive rhetoric. Each group will be driven toward fear and distrust of the other; this is the underpinning of White Nationalism.

In the face of this, we need to know more people who are not like us. We need a personal world which offsets, provides an alternative to, the divided world around us in whatever small way we can imagine.

So, just maybe the next time a Muslim or Latino family, or a Trump supporter or a Liberal, is across the tangerines from you at the Food Lion, maybe say hi, ask them about their day.

It might make you feel uncomfortable.

Stay uncomfortable.

And, for God’s sake, if you do speak to someone in the grocery store, don’t post about it after on Facebook.

– Steve Mitchell is co-owner of Scuppernong Books Find him at: www.thisisstevemitchell.com

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