Between the headlines and the commentary, I’ve been feeling a keen sense of loss. Specifically, I am feeling that we are losing our ability to co-exist. Here, in Palo Alto, there was a rally in support of human rights and keeping immigrant families united
. As the child of two immigrants, I felt it would be wrong to stay home and pretend I had something better to do. So, as the temperature crept north of 80 degrees, I walked over, grabbed some water, and stood with people of all kinds as they chanted and waved signs.
Drivers honked as they drove by, and I talked to the occasional person who would walk up to me, trying to suss me out. I was, after all, one of very few African Americans there.
I took pictures and some video to send back to friends and family, but mostly I just stood there — no sign, no chanting, no calling on drivers to honk. I just stood there co-existing with people and reflecting on what I fundamentally believe in: that all people, regardless who they are, where they were born, or what they believe, have the right to "equal justice under law
I let my mind rest on that as I stood among a mass of people shouting and playing tambourines. I stood with them, and I was struck by how good it felt to simply co-exist with others. That’s when a lady walked up to me and struck up a conversation. She pointed to a gentleman she said had been struggling with depression for weeks, and told me this was his first time attempting to break out his depression and participate in a new activity. She said he looked like he was doing well, and that she had encouraged him to start small — with a protest in Palo Alto, rather than going to the city. Looking at him, I could tell he was feeling what I was feeling: the power of being with others in a space and feeling a clear sense of purpose. It’s certainly a good tonic.
This week, I’ve been thinking deeply about co-existence and paradoxes, specifically these two paradoxes:
- tolerance is not achieved by tolerating intolerance
- civil rights are not won and kept through civil actions alone.
Then there’s the fact that some things are starting to co-exist that shouldn’t, assuming the goal is a healthy, peaceful democracy. Jean-Marie Guehénno, the former president and CEO of the International Crisis Group and author of “The Fog of Peace” outlines this in an interview here
(emphasis is mine):
"The end of the Soviet Union and Cold War has really generated a crisis of politics in the sense political ideas are not really what motivate people today. You see it in advanced democracies, where you are hard put to define political programs. You see it in developing countries, where the traditional political movements are under stress. What you see now are agendas where the political, the criminal, the religious agendas are all very blurred. …The amorphous nature of modern politics and of conflict is one reason why conflicts are more difficult to end today."
So, how do we co-exist? Is it turning a blind eye? I don’t think so. Is it constant confrontation? No, I don’t think it’s that either. I think it’s six things (thanks for the help on pinning down #4, Natalya):
- Know what you believe.
- Know that others may believe differently.
- Tolerate difference.
- Actively question your own experience.
- Be open to new facts.
- Reject intolerance.
These are so easily said, and yet so difficult to do. It’s hard to sit and listen to someone who doesn’t agree with you — to share space with them, and break bread with them. It’s difficult to hear facts that don’t align with what you believe to be true. It’s harder still to reject intolerance when you try day to day to be tolerant of others. But these are, at least to my mind, the actions it takes to co-exist.