My childhood was defined by the Gulf War. I remember a classmate's father coming to speak to my elementary school class. He told us that his water was poisoned with oil. My childhood mind couldn't understand that anyone had unclean water; didn't have the same access to basic water like I did; or that anyone could so deliberately hurt another person. There was a Q&A after his talk, and then a few moments when those of us who had questions, but didn't get to ask them publicly, could talk with him. I think I was nine. "Why would they put oil in your water?", I asked so confused. The man looked at me with gentle eyes and shrugged. "They were just being mean."
His answer confused me then and it still confuses me now.
Why are people mean?
Anger. Jealously. Inequality. Fear.
Fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. F.E.A.R.
15 years ago, we fumbled for the contact of strangers. We cried. Holding each other and feeling tears meant we were still alive and present.
15 years later, we cut glances in our communities and brace for impact. We question gestures of kindness as manipulation and condemn authenticity as weakness.
We live in a violent culture and I question how much of 9/11 has impacted the ideas of war-culture that continue to exist in our society.
A recent NPR story examined how gun language is part of our cultural language. At work or home, when was the last time you were "under the gun" or needed to "pull the trigger" on a project? Were you "locked and loaded" for a presentation or did you "take a shot" at a new idea? Was your "eye on the target" or did you "post-mortem" after your last project? Violent culture is a part of our language culture, but, like my nine-year-old-self, we don't realize that we could be "just being mean."
(I'm pausing as I write).
Several weeks ago I was asked to lead a movement workshop designed to facilitate community building among multiple populations, all at the same time. Age, gender, race, socio-economic, and geographic identity were a few of ways this population differentiated and identified. At the end of the workshop, most of the participants admitted they felt awkward and confused but that I was able to lead them to a place where they understood their awkwardness and confusion were a part of the process of seeing other people, stepping out of their own comfort zone, and recognizing different views and ways of being. The participants reported feeling uncomfortable participating in the movement experience, but were comforted by the fact that other people were also participating. Unlike other social experiments, I don't think this was an example of "group think" but a way that individuals can let go of personal boundaries in order to connect with their communities.
And when we connect, we can build on the gifts of individuals to develop a comprehensive whole.
Today, 15 years after 9/11/01, I remember strangers holding me because I was young and scared. I remember individuals putting themselves aside to let me know that I was not forgotten, in those moments/ days/ weeks of terror. I remember the importance to be - present in the remembering, the listening, and the action of what seemed to be positive social change.
Perhaps we as a country didn't do the best in banding together after 9/11/01, but I believe that we still have the power to remember that we're all connected in some way and that makes us a community... together...
"Give me your tired, your poor...
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hang
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tos"s to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
May we all find our own way to lift our lamp...