Friday, February 24, 2017

The Last Time You Changed Your Mind

"What's all this talk of illegal and police, mom?"

I knew the question was going to come eventually. Kids are always paying attention, and while we are conscious of what content they are exposed to, the reality is conversations about current US politics are swirling around at school, at church, in our home.

Across the dinner table, I caught eyes with my dear Kenyan friend, who is living and working in the US legally, and very well versed in the depths of the US immigration system. I took a deep breath and turned my eyes to my 7 year old son, "well," I began, "pretty much everyone is a citizen of a country."

"What is a citizen?" he interrupted.

I struggled through the next 15 minutes, fully aware my children were more attentive to me than perhaps ever before - little eyes locked on my face, asking questions, both to me and to our friend. "Does that mean if we tried to visit your home in Kenya we would have to get a visa, and if they wouldn't give it to us we couldn't come?"

I struggled to impart the value of each individual life, the seemingly micro implications of macro policies that are actually life-changing sentences for one and mere words to another. I tried to impart the value of pride in your country, and the value of countries having rules and laws, even regarding who can come, who can stay, and who should go.

As our conversation came to a close, I ended it with a value our family holds true to the depth of our very core - a value catalyzed by our faith, and lived out to the best of our abilities every day.

"we know our job is to love all people - no matter who they are, where they are from, what god they worship or don't worship, how much money they have, how their body works the same or differently than ours, who they love, what language they speak, what color their skin is, or how we know them. our job is to do what we can to make the life of each person we interact with a little bit better - every time we interact with them."

"ok, mom. Can we play hide and seek before we go to bed?"

And they were off. But the conversation stuck with me, and as I've mulled it over in my mind I realized what was so hard about the conversation: I wanted to give my children an honest answer, and one that valued the life of every human - both those impacted by their parents deportation, and by those who really believe deportation is the best option.

I'm about to lose 100% of you for one simple reason: you have a conclusion on the above topic and we have stopped changing our minds. Now, perhaps a bit ironically, you're either going to think "no, we haven't" or "yes, we have" - but what I hope you think is "have we?"

Curiosity is the root of new discovery.

In about September of last year, as the polarization in our politics came to more of a head, I decided I was missing something - how could so many people think so differently than me? or arrive at such different conclusions? support so many things I thought were absolutely horrible? I concluded I was missing something, rather than what I heard many people conclude: "they" (the nebulous "other") were missing something.

Why would I conclude this? Two very simple reasons: I do not know everything, and I can really only choose change for myself, I cannot force it on someone else. Whether you like it or not, those things are true for you, too.

So, I set out to understand what I was missing. I listened to conservative talk radio during one part of the day and liberal talk radio during the other. I read Breitbart and RedState, NPR and The New York Times, BBC and Al-Jazeera. I paid more attention to my conservative friend and families facebook feeds and tried to read an equal number of shared articles from people who I knew held vastly different ideologies.

I've continued to do this over the past 6 months, and have expanded to talking politics with immigrants, Muslims, white suburban Americans, Christian Church pastors, friends and strangers. Why? It's not because I have infinite energy - it's exhausting.  I've done it because clearly we're missing something.

Clearly, we're missing one another.

I have heard people on all sides of every aisle imaginable say terrible things about people across the other. It turns out mud-slinging, sarcasm, and fear-based rhetoric are quite happy crossing any political aisle.

But I've also learned so much. I've mostly learned how little I know, and been re-assured most people think whatever they are doing really is a good choice. I've learned that when people make choices they know will hurt others it's either because they think the other is out to hurt them or someone they value, or they feel it's the lesser of two evils.

I've also learned most people are looking for the exact same thing: a place to call their own in the world, safety and job/food security for themselves and the people they love, and the chance to enjoy a little bit of the world around them. That's really just about it.

When was the last time you changed your mind?

Not about what you wanted for dinner, or if your spouse was right about how rude your tone was. Really changed your mind. Changed a deep core truth you hold about a major system, group of people, religion, political topic, theological belief.

My children fight a lot lately. There is screaming, crying, and grabbing every day in this house. And as I've pulled back a little to hear trends in this perpetual state of fighting I realized one commonality: they're both shouting their self-advocacy.

I think we as adults are doing the same thing in every spectrum - the media, religious institutions, universities, protestors, social media, politics. We're shouting our beliefs, values, fears, and grievances at one another, and if this ends anything like my children's argument - something else will break, someone will get more hurt, and the relationship between the arguers will be more fractured than when it first began.

I'm working with my kids on thinking of the other person first, even if they truly believe the other person is wrong. And then I'm asking them to begin anticipating the other person's needs, while also honoring their own needs. I'm asking them to show how they want to be treated, not shout it.

And when they reach an empasse on who gets to eat the last gummy bear, I ask them to zoom out and figure out what's really important - the gummy bear or their relationship. They still say the gummy bear. We'll get there. I hope.

Would you do the same? Would you please, for your sake and for ours collectively, change your mind  or your heart on something? And would you do so because you allowed yourself to be impacted by someone you used to fear, detest, or look down on?

I've hesitated to write this blog for a while, for perhaps very obvious reasons. But it's time. We aren't about to wrap up this era of US & global politics, we're just getting started. And in a few decades when it's over, I don't want to say I hunkered and hated or worried or ignored, I want to sayI spread my arms and mind wide, loved and welcomed even and especially where there was risk, and learned and spread truth as best as I was able.

I'll leave you with one final thought: I have never seen a deep change of heart or mind outside of relationship. That's why stepping out and in to the places we feel so out of place is so absolutely important. Once we begin to truly see the "other" as just "another", we begin to understand, and learn, and compromise. Unity is a massive tree born from the smallest seed of listening and humility, watered with patience and kindness, and planted in shared experiences and values.

Let's plant a forest.


Photo by Brian Green



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