Disunited States – Reflection on the Morning After

Where does one begin to unpack the factors that contributed to yesterday’s attempted overthrow of the nation’s governing structure? What comes to mind is the profound effect the circumstances of our birth have on how we learn to see and understand the world. Our “positionality.” The time and place of birth matter greatly. Our status in the nations or societies or cultures which we inherit from our parents and ancestors affect the rest of our lives, often in ways we may never see or understand.

Sometimes, those of us born into the liminal space between differing ancestries and cultures learn at an early age how to see the world from differing vantage points. We directly witness the consequences that racism and classism had on our parents and grandparents. At an early age, we begin to question the values and governing structures created by a ruling class that not only allowed an attempted coup to materialize on January 6, 2021, but were also the actual architects that purposefully imposed oppressive structures and policies designed to preserve the power of the Anglo- and European-American capitalist elite.

It’s easy to assign blame for yesterday’s events on “thugs,” “neo-Nazis,” “White-nationalists,” or “domestic terrorists.” It’s easy to blame demented Donald Trump who, himself, is merely a product of a materially privileged, morally bereft, and emotionally abusive childhood. And it’s easy to blame the racism that runs rampant through the nation’s criminal (in)justice systems. Yet through the lenses of those on the margins, none of these simplistic explanations and reactions come anywhere close to explaining or addressing the root causes of yesterday’s events.

What do we expect from the soul of a nation built on genocide, enslavement, and unearned entitlement based on gender, the claim of property “ownership,” and ancestry? Why should it be surprising when the legitimacy of the governing structure of such a nation is challenged by those who inherited their positions on the margins and view themselves as victims of its unfair system?

In a very real sense, all of us have been socialized to accept and internalize our congenital place in a given society. Every aspect of the social values and institutions we encounter is affected by our positionality – our birth, where we live, how our parents parent us, the quality of nutrition, care, and education we receive. We are constantly reminded about our place in the social order. Myths of meritocracy encourage a largely unattainable false hope that we can achieve increased social status if we work hard enough. We are rarely, if ever, encouraged to question the legitimacy of the values or institutions that constrain our life possibilities, though.

The work and resources of people on the margins are essential for the continuing existence and comfort of the parasitic elite. The issue of how to control the vastly more sizeable percentage of the population that is marginalized has been accomplished through a capillary network of discriminatory practices in every aspect of people lives by their ability to pay. Education is a crucial dimension in the socialization process. Those who are lowest in the social structure are the least likely to receive an education that prepares them to think critically and aspire to professional careers (other than sports) or leadership positions. 

When confronted by events like the one we all just witnessed, I am grateful for a framework that can be used to think critically about the differing ways cultures have conceptualized conflict and operationalized their values in the social structures and institutions that evolved over millennia. A simple question illustrates how profound differing views can be. Does a society seek to help heal individuals and damaged social relations or does it seek revenge by punishing individual offenders? Rupert Ross’s work offers a fascinating contrast to consider.

Contrast between Ojibway/Cree and Euro-Canadian Cultures

Adapted from the work of Rupert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Octopus Publishing Group.

The most important of Ross’ (1992, pp. 165-184) observations from my perspective is that way he characterized cultural differences in fundamental beliefs about human beings. In his role as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Ontario, Canada, he had an opportunity to work with Ojibway and Cree tribal communities and described their belief that children were born in a state of “original sanctity.” In contrast, as a Euro-Canadian, he argues that the cultural view held by most non-Native Canadians is a belief that people are born “in a state of original sin.” He goes on to point out how these differing views resulted in distinctive ways of dealing with conflict that were linked to very specific goals. Simply stated, one culture focused on isolating and punishing deviant individuals and the other cultures were interested in healing individuals and their relationships with others.

The United States is once again at risk of repeating mistakes its made in terms of how the nation responds to conflict. The quick avenging call to action is being sounded to punish the “bad” people. I feel a sense of responsibility today to type these words even though they are unlikely to be read by the people who are in greatest need of wise counsel.

We CANNOT resolve conflict by assigning one-sided blame. How many of us have reached out to try to understand those who have differing values and political views? I am not suggesting it’s easy, believe me. I have participated in activities to find common ground on polarizing issues with people whose views were diametrically opposed to mine. Sometimes the best we could do was to civilly agree to disagree. The positive outcome, though was that no one was harmed and nothing was destroyed in the process.

I have no desire to assign blame to anyone. Perhaps it’s the researcher in me. I just want to understand what we need to do differently as a society to help all people feel they are valued members with a vested interest in our collective, peaceful survival on a world we all need to take care of. I want to do what I can now to help us make that transition.

*

*

May we take time to reflect and choose the wiser path to peace and healing.

Reflections about the Power of Presence

There was really nothing remarkable about her appearance
small and thin – if truth be told, a bit ordinary and mousey
perhaps a blessing in disguise – it made her invisible
Her voice was soft and melodic – with a hypnotic quality
that created space where those who were too loud, quieted, 
and leaned forward to listen intently when she spoke
She didn’t think this had anything to do with her in particular

Her laughter, though infrequent, created sparkling crystal light
thawing and healing wounded hearts or invoking fear
among those who were filled with darkness
Her gaze was focused and intense – a reader of souls
People who were relegated to marginal status
were often drawn to her light like moths to a flame
sensing a compassionate presence others could not see

She sometimes felt the power within and hid from it
knowing that power brought overwhelming temptations
aware that an ill-spoken word hurled with anger or rage
could leave legacies of lasting harm
and would certainly cut her most deeply

Life taught her to hone her voice, gaze, and presence
though she somehow intrinsically knew only to use them responsibly
on behalf of others in times of great need or danger
and spirits watched over her helping her learn
to only use her gifts in ways that would not draw attention
from the watchers who wanted to stifle compassion, wisdom, joy
and the loving spirit of ordinary people
in order to keep them afraid, confused, angry, and divided
and unable to express the transformative beauty they carried within

Imagine life in COVID for such a one
with months spent largely in isolation
unable to use abilities that were gifts
intended to help others on the margins
to be seen and heard, to have their voices matter
in decisions that affect their lives and all our relations
The regenerating effects of energy shared between humans
through the magic of presence, smiles, and touch now taboo
forcing reliance on distancing technologies and online platforms
as the primary means for communicating through virtual words

Yet nature provides a way for her to stay connected to the world
with the gentle winter kisses of snowflakes – each unique
and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
reminding her to be grateful because she can still share
from her heart even with distancing technologies
even in the midst of suffering, loss, and darkness

She hears a message for herself
and feels compelled to pass it on to others

“Be kind and gentle with yourself and others
each unique and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
rekindle the light within and envision the best you can imagine
for the new year just beginning – let it be a time of healing
and a time of freedom from bondage to fear, suffering, and separation”

What I Noticed Today …

I am sharing the poem that sang through my heart this morning before my last classes.

Choosing to focus on compassion brings gifts.
This morning, I realized the gift of myopia (nearsightedness)…

As a child, I couldn’t see the sharp boundaries that separated one thing from another.
I could only see the way things blended together at the margins of their physical beings.
Now I realize the power of learning to see the world through that perspective.
At 8, I got powerful lenses that helped me see that leaves on tress were distinct and separate
not a massive cotton-ball sitting on top of their trunk.

Yet I can’t go back and unsee their connections –

    • to each other,
    • to the tree trunk,
    • to the earth that gives the tree footing and sustenance,
    • to the sky that is above and surrounds them,
    • to the winds that sometimes caress and whisper through them, and other times ravage the branches they cling to tenaciously,
    • to the birds and squirrels that seek connection and sanctuary amid a leafy home,
    • and to those who take time to observe them with wonder and gratitude.

Sometimes the things others call deficiencies
turn out to be among our most precious gifts
if we are fortunate enough to be able to overcome the limitation they may impose.

My childhood was not easy. It forced me to find inner strengths to survive…

*

Beaver Moon” – November 28, 2020

*

I hope you are able to remember how you learned to see the world as a child.

 

December 2020 Reflections

I remember reading something years ago when I worked on elder issues, although I honestly no longer remember who wrote this:

“People really don’t change with age. They just become more of who they always were.”

Today, as I get ready for my last day of Saturday classes after an incredibly challenging semester, that statement seems to ring so true.

Following is the photo of the place where I’ve spent most of my time during the last month – sitting in front of my computer. Sometimes I was grading papers online in the “Review” mode of Microsoft WORD, and sometimes I was meeting on Zoom.

*

*

Learning how to teach on Zoom has been a difficult journey. It reminded me of the fist time I saw myself on video. The experience was truly memorable and continues to exert its influence each time I see myself on camera before I begin accepting students who are in the Zoom “waiting room.”

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a while ago that has helped me remember both the humor and humility needed to face this daunting but necessary challenge.

***

October 26, 2020 – Reflections about Zoom:
Trying to maintain social connections in an era of physical distancing

I wonder how many people have seen themselves on video. I didn’t see myself on video until I was in my early 30s. It was a shock! All I could see were my imperfections. Mostly, the size of my nose! I remember the aftereffect vividly. As I climbed the stairs from the basement video lab in the social work building after watching my first taped interview, I wondered why my nose wasn’t bouncing off the walls three-feet away as I turned the corners of the winding stairway.

I laughed at the thought later, but it only made it harder for me to face another video-taped interview, or even worse, a public speaking event. And as luck would have it, I had to do a lot of public speaking in the first job I had after completing my master’s degree. Luckily, experiences before and after my first video taught me the power of humility and humor. They also taught me to face my fears head on.

Rather than continue suffering for days before each speech, unable to eat, I enrolled in a public speaking training course. Participants were required to present information on a variety of topics to other enrollees as the camera rolled. Then, we analyzed our own and other’s videos to identify both strengths and suggestions for improvement. I didn’t notice my nose. What I did notice were a few surprising strengths I had never noticed before.

*

Screenshot of 1989 TV interview about American Indian Logo Issues with John Pepitone, Newscene 15 (a Madison, WI ABC affiliate)

*

No one would be able to tell that I was scared and nauseous. There were no “tell” signs of anxiety – no stuttering or deadly space fillers of ums or ahs, no red neck or flushed cheeks, and no hands uncontrollably shaking. My presentations were animated by movements, facial expressions, and hand movements, and my voice was pleasant to hear, modulating appropriately with changing topics.

The experience also taught me some techniques to deal with fear.

    • Research your topic well. Know who your audience is. And choose the best ways to present information.
    • Take time to breathe and center.
    • Remember the purpose of your presentation. This is not about you or your ego. It’s about communicating authentically and effectively in order to convey crucial information on some topic that is important to the audience.
    • Don’t sit or stand behind a podium. Move! Use the extra energy from fear and anxiety to create a sense of presence.
    • Make eye contact with everyone in the audience.
    • Don’t take yourself too seriously and be ready to adapt to unforeseen glitches and opportunities with spontaneity and grace.

Fast-forward to four decades later. It’s not the size of my nose that bothers me most these days when I see my image reflected back to me on the Zoom screen. But honestly, I try not to notice the way the camera highlights the two front teeth that were the victims of bad dentists, or how the headphones I need for audio make my scraggly, thinning, graying hair look even more disheveled. Let’s not mentioned the wrinkles or the lenses on my glasses that either reflect light from the window or computer screen or distort the size of my eyes. These are a small price to pay for a long life spent on gaining knowledge and compassion that I hope to pass on to others.

The most difficult part of Zoom, though, is not being able to sense or change the energy in a room. All I have are words that don’t flow as easily when I have to remain stationary and speak to small images of student faces, or blank screens with their names when students turn off their video cameras. I can’t even tell if the Zoom camera ever shows that I am looking at them directly when they’re speaking.

Yet I try to communicate as effectively as possible anyway, because in these times connections matter even more. Although human connections with students are over a distancing medium, it’s the best we can do right now. I try to focus on the things that matter despite the vulnerabilities that are exposed in the process. A sense of humor and humility help…

***

The most difficult challenge now, though, is the fact that I have so little time to write or keep up with the photos, poetry, stories, and reflections that you all post on lovely blogs. As I face the beginning of a new semester all too soon, I wonder when I will ever find time to blog again. I have a new online platform to learn and courses to significantly modify in order to incorporate what I have learned about online teaching through trial and error.

One of lessons from the past semester is the importance of closing each class with a meaningful message. The PowerPoint slide I often share at the end of my research classes is posted below. (The photo on the slide is the “Beaver Moon,” taken on November 28, 2020.) 

Remember to take time to observe

what’s happening within and around you.

Remember what you focus on

and the lens you look through

affect what you see.

“Life isn’t just about just choosing between

this or that,

it’s about perceiving and embracing

all the possibilities between.” 

https://www.huffpost.com/horoscopes/pisces

*

Just in case I am unable to post again this year, I want to wish you all wonder-filled holidays and a peaceful, hopeful transition to a new year.

Early-November Musings 2020

 

November 2, 2020

Sunset – November 2, 2020

*

November 6, 2020 – A Nation Divided

The last four years have exposed with undeniable clarity how easy it is to exploit the fault lines and fissures in our communities to divide us by ancestry, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and political ideologies. In the coming years, we will need to find common ground to survive. It will take all of us to face the threats that affect us – diseases including COVID, technological disasters, and climate change.

All I can do in these times is to try to help family, friends, and students keep hope alive.

*

November 7, 2020 – Class Day

What I noticed this morning –

Instead of looking out of my upstairs window at the gardens below and then greeting the morning on my side porch as I do almost every day, I ran downstairs to turn on my computer so I could check the news about the election.

The past week has been a rollercoaster ride between two contrasting choices – dread, despair, and disappointment or cautiously hopeful optimism. I didn’t find a resolution to a polarized nation on news sites. What I did find, though, was helpful advice from horoscopes for the two astrological signs associated with the time of my birth – Pisces, an emotional water sign symbolized by two fish swimming in opposite directions, and Aquarius, an analytical air sign represented by the water-bearer. The horoscopes both offered what seems to be sage advice for all of us during challenging times.

“Your ability to arm yourself with knowledge and a calm demeanor will help you to shut down any chaos or negativity.” (Aquarius horoscope, 11/7/2020, Huffington Post)

“Your presence of mind and patience will help you out tremendously today.” (Pisces horoscope, 11/7/2020, Huffington Post) 

In class, I chose to follow that advice. Rather than drone on and on about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, I asked my colleague to join me to check-in with students to give them a chance to talk about how they were doing and find out from their perspective what we could do to help them.

PowerPoint Slide – Class 9 – November 7, 2020
    • What have you noticed about yourself in the learning process this semester?
    • What have you noticed about our learning community cohort this semester?
    • What did you learn about your ancestors’ struggles last year that offers ideas about how to survive during difficult times?
    • What story will your grandchildren tell about the way you came through these challenging times?

One of the final questions we asked was

“Why are you here?”

We added an observation.

“Showing up for four or five hours of classes via Zoom on a Saturday, especially on one of the last warm, sunny days we are likely to see for many months, is noteworthy. We’re grateful that you are all here.”

Students told us “connections matter.” That’s what helps them survive during these times.

Being there for family, students, colleagues, pets, and the gardens I planted takes almost all of my time and attention these days. Too soon, the snow will make that more challenging…

*

November 11, 2020

Sunrise – November 11, 2020


Still, I want to take this moment to say chi miigwetch (thank you) to all of the WordPress friends who have continued to bring so much beauty into my life.

The Watcher

Why today? As she noticed her self-talk once again referring to herself as “we,” she felt compelled to contemplate what that signified.

She realized it has always felt like there was an entity that was somehow outside of her physical body, outside of her emotions, that watched and judged everything she thought and said and did from an objective vantage point. She wondered.

When did the watcher first appear in my life?

Was it always here?

Did it develop as a survival mechanism to distance myself as a child from physical and emotional abuse?

She thought of her first childhood memory. It was already there. The watcher was outside her baby body, watching her try to force a body that could not yet speak in words to communicate what she saw so clearly in the world around her. Somehow, she knew with certainty that it was an incredibly important message to convey, but all she could do was cry. Her body was simply incapable of doing what she felt was necessary for it to do.

She realizes the watcher does help her in some ways. It helps her evaluate every thought and action through a critical lens. Yet it also stifles spontaneity by continually pointing out her many flaws, mistakes, and limitations.

The watcher is almost always there – EXCEPT when she focuses on solving puzzles, learning something new, or creating something in the real world that comes from a place that she cannot see or describe. Like the attempt of her baby-self to communicate a message that she knew was inspired by the need to offer comfort and enlightenment to people who were suffering because of their woundedness, self-doubt, and low self-esteem.

She eventually learned that the only way to appease the watcher and silence it for a while was to keep learning, attempting to create something positive in the real world, or solving puzzles. You know, though, each of these strategies can become an addiction and a source that provokes the watcher to be ever-more critical.

“You’ll never know enough. You’ve failed yet again. You’re wasting your time playing when you should be working.”

She’s decided to watch the watcher from this day forward, just to see what happens. Who knows what she will discover?



October Reflections – 2020

October 3 – An afternoon adventure well worth several days of COVID self-quarantine

My daughter and granddaughter enjoying a moment of peaceful beauty at Pattison State Park
Pattison State Park, Superior, Wisconsin
Black River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Manitou Falls
Milkweed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interfalls Lake

***

Saturday – October 10, 2020

Gradually, I am learning to be grateful for the chance to experience the many thoughts, sensations, and circumstances that present themselves at any given moment. I have the opportunity to choose which ones capture my full attention. This morning, instead of descending into sadness over losses of the past (my mother died on this day ten years ago), mourning over fragile fleeting life and beauty, or obsessing over forces and behaviors I dislike but cannot change, I chose to focus on the task at hand. Preparing for online classes that only happen on alternate Saturdays. Today was one of them.

On class days, I need to take time to answer the question I ask students at the beginning of our online meeting about research.

“What did you notice today?”

Often, as I greet the morning on class days, the universe offers me something that may be of help to my students in these challenging times, while also teaching them something about research.


Greeting the morning I noticed sensations competing for attention –

The melodious songs of birds and the loud revving engine of a motorcycle,
The cool air touching my cheeks that made me want to take a deep breath, instantly stifled by the whiff of heavy toxic pollution in the air from factories that are no-longer idled as CODID restrictions have eased

I was reminded of Parker Palmer’s insight about the challenges of “standing in the tragic gap”

“By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” (Parker J. Palmer, August 21, 2013, Courage & Renewal). 

Curious, open-minded folks with common sense observe both the pleasant and unpleasant, accepting both as reality and honestly recording what they see. The added dimension for social work faculty, practitioners, and students, though, is the responsibility they carry for assessing how vulnerable populations are affected and figuring out ways to use research, knowledge, and skills to inform interventions that ameliorate harm and serve to enhance or create preventive and protective supports.

It’s not easy for me to figure out how to teach effectively using only distance technology. It’s not easy for students, either. Yet they show up on time and participate anyway, often sharing important insights and resources.

They will need a lot of creativity, skill, and tenacity to figure out how to weave meaningful local community connections in neighborhoods like the one I live in at present. Each family seems to be solidly ensconced in their own culture, house, and yard, and all seem to be increasingly avoidant of any exchanges with the those outside their fences.

Fortunately, I have family, friends, and colleagues who live relatively close, some of whom I can still sometimes hug. I have to admit, though, that I sometimes miss the old days when things seemed different, friendlier, kinder. I wonder now if old times really were kinder or whether I was simply less observant…

***

Mid-October – October 13, 2020

Weeks pass so quickly
with too few moments to wonder
or wander in flights of fancy
beyond the borders of constraints
created by responsibilities to others
Still on this brisk, windy sunny mid-morning
I am transported on my neighborhood walk
by the striking contrasts of color and light
accentuating sharp boundaries
between sun and shadow
trees glowing in their glorious multi-hued garb
with a few dark skeletal branches revealed
against the cerulean cloud-studded sky
There’s no time or space for photos
I merely serve as the responsible leash-holder
for my little dog as he trots merrily along
enjoying a pleasant fall day

Wishing you all a pleasant day, too!

Fog – September 26, 2020

Today I arose early, 5 o’clock in the morning, to work on my presentation for class today. Because we always begin class by sharing something we noticed in the morning, I decided to peer out the upstairs window just in case I saw something interesting. I did. The earth was shrouded in silence and mystery, enveloped in thick fog. Of course, I didn’t have my camera, and I had no intentions of writing anything. Yet as I greeted the morning from my side porch after making a cup of coffee, the words that flowed through me demanded to be written before I could focus on finishing my Power Point about research methodologies.

 

Fog

Gazing out my window this morning
at the world surrounding my house
enshrouded in stillness and fog
before anyone else has awakened
I sense the divide between heart and mind
dissolving and blurring as well

*
*

Fog – it feels like a metaphor
for these times when it’s hard to see
anything clearly beyond
this one place on the earth
and beyond this moment only

The blessed silence – a welcomed respite
from the daily news of tragic loss,
suffering, and cruelty
that encircle the globe

Yet, there are also inspiring examples
of courage and everyday kindnesses
that touch my heart ever deeper

Reflections about Connections – September 2020

September 17, 2020

I wish to begin with the humorous side of life in these times…

I spent much of yesterday harvesting, and this morning, after beginning to draft this reflection, I put some of my little tomatoes on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Then, I went out to water the little arbor vitae in my backyard, planning to water the gardens in my front yard next. (We’ve had very little rain here this year, making watering an essential part of gardening.) Instead, I decided to squirt my 14-year-old car in the back driveway while the hose was on to see if some of the dirt would come off. It’s been covered by nine-years of burning embers and soot from my neighbor’s bonfires.

Despite trying to scrub the dirt off by hand-washing my car every year in the past, the soot and burn scars remained. I finally gave up earlier this year and just started taking my car to an automated car wash. The process never really cleaned the car, but at least it was coated with multiple layers of a protective wax cover. Today, though, I decided to test out whether some of the soot would come off if I just rubbed it with a paper towel when it was wet. Lo and behold, much of it came off. It took me several hours to finish. Then, it was time to walk Pinto.

Where does the time go? Soon it will be Pinto’s supper time (my little papillon-chihuahua dog) which requires my presence in order for him to eat, and lately, to be prepared to hand-feed him if necessary. Then, it’s Queenie’s movie time (my parakeet), a computer-based endeavor. While Queenie’s busy, I will have time to wash the chard I harvested yesterday. I think I’ve figured out a way to do it safely.

A boring tale of ordinary reality! The things we do to eat and live. But I did take time to read something quite funny: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/sep/17/frozen-poo-and-narcissists-eyebrows-studies-win-ig-nobel-prizes. In my defense, though, it does deal with research! And I’ve also been busy working on my courses, which brings me to the title for this post – connections.

When I looked at the afternoon sun in the sky today, here in northeast Minnesota more than a thousand miles from Oregon, California, and Washington state, it was clear how connected we all are despite geological distances.

5:42 P.M., September 15, 2020

***


September 20, 2020

The courses I’m teaching this semester began on Saturday, September 12 – research and community practice. Preparing has meant significant adjustments to respond to a world that has changed drastically since the cohort of students began their studies several years ago. Many are the first generation in their families to attend college. Yet most were able to successfully shift to completely online classes mid-semester in the spring. This year, the courses for our hybrid satellite program are all online. Our bi-weekly classes that were once face-to-face will meet via Zoom.

This semester, I’m also co-teaching community practice with a dear friend and colleague. My colleague and I decided to focus on one issue – the connection between access to safe water and community health, the focus of my research class as well.

Why focus on our work on water? Why not?

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” (John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 110). 

The community where we live is located on the southwest shore of Lake Superior, one the five interconnected freshwater Great Lakes of North America that comprise part of the border between the United States and Canada.

“The Great Lakes—Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—form the largest-surface freshwater system in the world, together holding nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface freshwater” (The National Wildlife Foundation).

My colleague and I met during the summer to discuss how and what to teach students so they will be able to work with communities in a future world we can’t even imagine. What will they need to know to weather the challenges they will face? What knowledge and tools will provide a foundation for them so they can help their families and communities come together to adjust to ever changing difficulties and possibilities?

During these days of “social distancing,” it is becoming ever more obvious that many people are no longer willing to reach out to bridge differences with others. Polarities divide us in these times. Yet addressing the serious issues we are facing now will require all of us to understand and respect others despite differences, to care enough about the future of our world to be able to put differences aside so we can work together. Those who engage in community practice need the skills to bring people together for productive dialogue to explore possibilities for finding common ground.

I shared an experience with my colleague that I had as a participant/observer of a polarized community exchange, described in an older post, “Alternative Futures – Who Chooses?.  Six years ago, I attended a public hearing designed to give community members a chance to voice their views of a proposed expansion of the amount of tar sands oil that could be pumped in a pipeline along the southern shore of the Great Lakes. Looking at the issue from a purely logical perspective, it’s a very bad idea. Tar sands oil is laden with toxic chemicals and the corporation that owns the pipeline has a troubled safety record. The location already threatens the safety and quality of the Great Lakes.

***

“… important perspectives were voiced to support and oppose the proposal.

“I listened, observed, and took notes. Today, I am trying to sort out my overall insights. First, I need to reflect on the opening remarks of the administrative judge. He explained that the meeting room was set up with a table for speakers so everyone could speak to each other as neighbors and community members. I’m not sure that happened. Half of the audience would applaud after those in support of Enbridge spoke (the woman seated next to me was among them), and the other half would applaud for those who presented their opposition (I was among that half). Although many spoke with passion, their words did not touch my heart because I didn’t sense their hearts in their words. Perhaps it was fear of speaking in public, but even fear is ego-motivated. Only one woman had the presence of mind to stand and face the audience as she testified, with her back to those at the front tables. Her words came the closest to touching others who expressed differing views.

“As I reflect on the perspectives of those who spoke in support of expansion, I realize that no one offered viable alternatives to meet their legitimate economic concerns. They need Enbridge to support their families. Do we have viable alternative energy businesses to absorb businesses and workers reliant on old oil technologies? Do we have universities and technical colleges that can help them retool? Their support for the continuation and expansion of our reliance on old technology is understandable, but no one in the room who opposed expansion acknowledged this, so the room remained divided. It seemed as though the supporters of expansion were forced into a position of denying climate change to defend a perspective that was characterized as ignorant and self-interested. Opponents could leave and feel self-righteous and blame their failure to reach others’ hearts because the others were ignorant and self-interested, not really a part of our community…

“This is the challenge of being between cultures – the need to understand different perspectives from an empathetic middle. It doesn’t answer the larger questions of what I can do, but I can begin to explore ways to address legitimate concerns and bridge cultural divides.”

***

My colleague and I discussed how we might help students develop the skills they would need to create environments where community members could explore common ground around polarizing issues and developed the following assignment.

***

Perspectives Assignment

Given that we cannot meet in person to undertake the work that lies ahead, we are organizing three dialogue groups of students that will provide opportunities to learn and practice dialogue and group skills that are foundational to effective and respectful community practice.

Each of the three groups will focus on different community values and beliefs associated with water and healthy community that are present in Northern MN, and will embark on the community assessment process from that general lens. Each member will be asked to understand the mindset and values of those who fit into one of the following three perspectives:

i. Profit from the water or land adjoining waterways
ii. People in tribal communities who depend on water
iii. Preservation of the Natural Environment as a primary consideration

Groups will then use that lens to assess a specific community. We are hoping that the group assignments will be made by consensus in our next class meeting.

The expectations for each student are that best efforts are made to negotiate and dedicate time in the weeks ahead to connect and engage with the respective dialogue group in the community assessment process. As a group you will be given assignments and introduced to tools for planning and carrying out how each will gather and contribute information needed for the assessment. Together you will be sharing and analyzing the individual discoveries and reflecting on the implications for communities from the particular ideological vantage point of the group’s assigned perspective. The group dialogues and collaborative work should support the collective and individual learning and development, and contribute to information each person can draw from in the final Community Assessment Report.

The final challenge will be for each of the groups to present what they learned about a local water issue and themselves when they looked through the lens of “Profit, People, or Preservation.” Understanding how others see the world and why is essential for building inclusive communities. My colleague and I hope the discussion that results will reflect suggestions for how we can better bridge “cultures” in more effective, respectful ways to establish inclusive partnerships on firm common ground.

Water issues connect us all and are in the news almost every day – too much water due to hurricanes and deluges, too little resulting in catastrophic fires, and too unsafe to drink or swim in due to undeveloped or aging infrastructures and widespread pollution. Without water, all life as we know it will cease.

In an increasingly polarized world, it seems impossible to bring people together to figure out how we can work together to address the issues that affect us all. There’s nothing I can do alone to help put out the fires in the western states, or even stop a small city on the southern shore of the lake that provides drinking water for my community and thousands of others from dumping thousands of gallons of sewage in the lake every year

But I can work with others to raise awareness by writing and teaching, not only about the issue, but also about the need to find ways to promote bridge-building among groups with strongly held values that get in the way of understanding and inclusive collaboration on solutions.

Ever sensitive to the metaphors nature provides, I was able to catch the wonder of an evening sunset.

7:03 P.M., September 20, 2020

***

September 22, 2020

The sun will rise again tomorrow, of this I’m sure. I’m also certain that the world it greets in the morning will have changed yet again in ways I could not have imagined when I witnessed this wonder. Hopefully the things I have learned will provide the foundation I will need to work in partnership with my family, colleagues, students, and friends to continue working toward a day when the sun will rise on a verdant, peaceful planet where all life is respected and nurtured for the irreplaceable and invaluable wonders all represent.

Reflections – August 2020

Sunflower from a Squirrel-planted seed

I’m scared

sometimes

of living in an

aging body that seems

unpredictably more fragile

when just one wrong move

cracks my back and sends me

to bed in agonizing pain for a week

It’s not the thought of dying that I fear

I’m terrified by the possibility of having to rely on others

for kind, compassionate care if I am not able to take care of myself

***

My thoughts today reminded me of a song by Laura Nyro, “and when I die.”

I also remembered the things I witnessed when I worked as a nurses’ aide in nursing homes and a university hospital, as an attendant in the infirmary of a state school for people with mental retardation, and as a home health care aide for people who were recovering from major illnesses or dying. I have written about some of those experiences in previous posts (Mickey, Clara, Rita, and Donald), including the motivation they provided for me to complete degrees that would enable me to try to humanize long-term care systems at a policy level.

My mother meeting her great grandson – March, 1999

I learned enough to be able to try to create more humane care for my mother for the last 16 years of her life, although it required tenacity, vigilance, and creativity. I don’t know if she was aware of her losses or where she was because of Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not something I wish for my daughter to shoulder.

My mother, daughter, and grandson – March 1999

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that I need to make major changes in where and how I live. Things that were easy for me to do, or at least manageable just a short while ago like landscaping and shoveling heavy snow, could mean serious injury and permanent disability the next time I don’t move just the right way.

That’s just how life is. Things change and old bodies wear out one way or another. So many others in the world right now are suffering far greater challenges and losses. I am grateful for the many blessings in my life and feel no need to mourn what was. I have courses to prepare for the fall semester that will be beginning in early September, a family to care for as long as I’m here, and dear blogging friends who hopefully know how much I care even though my presence on WordPress has been so infrequent this summer.

Sending my best wishes to all.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: