Published: Jul 28, 2012 01:30 PM
Modified: Jul 28, 2012 01:36 PM
My grandmother never could decide what to wear to her funeral. This tall, effortlessly elegant woman changed her mind with an almost religiously consistency. It wasnt just a question of seasonal suitability. She wanted to be buried in something she liked, preferably with appropriate accessories. When its open casket, you dont want to startle your guests. So, Grandmama was forever telling one child or other that shed changed her mind and now wanted to be buried in this. An aunt finally insisted Grandmama pin a note to the outfit du jour so we didnt have to bury her in several just to cover our bases. I appreciated Grandmamas unapologetic willingness to change her mind given new information, new experiences and new wardrobe options. Our society seems to have developed a resistance to changing our minds. We are becoming stick-in-the-muds at an alarming rate. We call people flip-floppers and accuse them of being inconsistent. I dont mean those who lie about their true beliefs in order to achieve position or power. Lying is not in jeopardy. Im talking about the wonderfully honest process of weighing new information, new experiences, new sartorial choices and thus expanding our repertoire of possible actions. Surely the ability to change our minds is one of the saving graces of our kind. We are not evolutionarily doomed to stand our ground if the ground is quicksand and were going under. We can move to higher ground. We just dont do it. Its a puzzle to my scientist friends. Why arent people rushing to reverse global warming while we still have a fighting chance? Why dont people change their eating habits when their current choices are killing them? Would we really rather die than change our minds?The short answer is sure. Life is short, and we are scared. We want certainty. Even if its false. We want to believe that what we already know is all we need to know precisely because we already know it. We dig our feet into dogma like a life preserver. We hold on to what worked in the past and ignore the present even though, as Buckminster Fuller once pointed out, the floating piano top that saved you from drowning may not be the best design for a life preserver.Being scared makes us grumpy. So we slap labels across others to prove their wrongheadedness, ignoring the fact that we printed the labels. Ive heard the un-incarcerated say the incarcerated must belong in prison because thats where they are. If an inmate hadnt done anything wrong, he wouldnt be in prison, so the fact that he is in prison proves he did something wrong. Sounds crazy but we do this kind of circular thinking all the time. We ignore the reality that the U.S. leads the world in producing prisoners. Its unnerving to consider the alternative: that we could be them and they us. Scared and grumpy, we refuse to entertain a better way, because it would mean letting go of a cherished certainty about who we and they are. Separating ourselves and distancing the other gives us a sense of safety but its a false security. We are in this together. How do we bridge the monumental divides between rich and poor, privileged and marginalized, Republican and Democrat, black and white and brown? These divides weaken our communities and shrink our capacity for effective action. For people of faith, reconciliation and restoration are familiar words. But restorative practices are just that practices. We practice discovering common ground rather than assuming a stalemate of opposition. If youre clinging to your little circle of belief and I have a death grip on mine, there is no hope for stepping onto higher ground. We have to pry loose our fingers and let go of certainty, always a scary process. We cannot wait for others to see the light and join our tiny staked territory. We must stop blaming and name-calling and draw a bigger perimeter that includes us both. I think this expansion happens most effortlessly through sharing stories. What wounds you? What brings you joy? What do we most need to understand about your life? When we actually listen, sometimes to the words not being said, we acknowledge each others inherent dignity. We stop throwing rocks at each other and start using them to build a foundation.Recently the Telegraph printed a photo of a barn owl on a skateboard. He isnt injured. The owl can fly just fine. But he accidentally landed on a skateboard and liked the motion so much he added skateboarding to his repertoire. Riding a mile in someone elses shoes certainly expanded his options. Now this is how he rolls. Grandmama was more committed to the process of asking than she was to the answer. Its a great life strategy, valuing the question more than the conclusion. As my brother said at her funeral, Life is so short; the art of it so long to learn. We dont change until we do. My grandmother never wore a pair of pants in her life. Until she did. And then she never wore a dress again, far as I recall. Except at weddings. And possibly at her funeral, though she may have changed her mind about that.
Lynden Harris is the director of Hidden Voices telling the stories of underrepresented communities. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.