For several years now there has been any degree of cultural tension in my beloved hometown. Every six months or so, it seems, there is an incident that picks at the scab of the inherent and underlying racism with a religious chaser we see in a not insignificant portion of our area. I don’t feel the need to get into details here. It always involves one or a combination of slurs, tasteless at best social media posts, arrogance, anger, discrimination, humiliation, mindless fear, ignorance. Do you have a half hour?
People can only take so much disrespect (I was tempted to use other language just there) before they must express their anger and frustration. Only when the pot boils over does the community get burned. Only then do they cry, wring their hands, plan meetings, hold an open dialogue. All these things are good things and must happen before these thick walls can be brought down. But more must be done. Each individual incident causes suffering. But folks round here who aren’t fond of conflict are desperate to forget the pain festering in their community. They have developed very sophisticated ways of denying, deflecting and decrying the truth. The ugly truth that hatred in so many of it’s forms lies so near the surface, just under such paper thin skin, so as to be barely held back from explosive actions by otherwise prudent and generous people.
As usual I see more in these things than is maybe safe. Ahead is some of the commentary I write to myself when these things happen, mostly because when I make an attempt to wrap my head around it it stops me from seething with fury, for the time being at least. When I’m done writing the pain returns. Maybe that’s why I’m so verbose. It’s my way of processing that which I cannot fathom. Regardless it doesn’t change my prayers that through some miracle we will all grow up, and we won’t have to deal with racism, with anti-Islam frenzy, with alleged human beings walking around impervious to the truth, in a sadly regular, predictable and damaging way.
We have recently had another domino fall incident of hate, causing pain to so many in the community. Pain of a particularly venomous nature. It has been especially hurtful because it involves high school students. It’s why I’m here. Writing, which I’ve recently discovered is a good thing for me to do, not just for my own health, but because the angel on my right shoulder has neutralized the devil on the left, with love and recognition. So here goes.
Crying again but you can’t look.
Managing, or if one is very lucky, solving acute instances of conflict is vital to peaceful resolution and community health. However, this is not only an acute and immediate conflict but an ongoing chronic one and is representative of a larger community issue. I’m certain those most invested in this challenge are aware of this and are working hard to develop solid processes to address the issue for the long term. But more must be done. The roots of the problem must be exposed to the air.
An analogy I use to better understand the issue of conflict, not only locally but internationally, is the “feed a man a fish” meme. I think we all are familiar with that. It informs my strong feeling that education is the key to truly addressing the chronic nature of this damaging conflict. Because this involves an incident precipitated by a high school student he irony of that statement is not lost on me. There is an incredible opportunity here for learning here that will not only help people at this point but throughout their lives.
I am Bi-Polar. As such I have had major conflict issues my entire adult life. I have done a lot of research on the topic of conflict resolution. In many ways we do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are numerous useful programs designed to educate all ages about the nature of conflict and conflict resolution. Our challenge hare is not solely racial or cultural but is essentially about conflict resolution. We all face conflict, in many forms, throughout our lives. Educational efforts can not only help us with this problem but give us tools for a lifetime.
One of those things that we unfortunately can’t measure by tests is how well we have learned to be good people. It can only be tested in how well we express the accord of our thought, word, and deed, in how consistent we are in sharing our love and compassion. If we can’t teach our children how the power of love heals wounds and creates a place for everyone in this world to thrive, then we have failed; we have been defeated. We are doomed, verily, to continue torturing our selves with those failings.
We must learn, not just students, but all of us, how to resolve conflicts when they rear their head, which they most certainly will. Not all conflict is inherently bad, but regardless, all conflicted parties can benefit from knowing what conflict truly is and have effective tools to resolve it. But do our schools have the tools, support, resources and freedom from weariness needed to fight through the substantial impediments to peace, both internal and external, that are placed in front of our youth daily? Lack of funding and school counselors of color, the actions of the ignorant and apathetic, say they do not.
There are tools to help us. In my research into conflict resolution I have found several educational programs that have given me knowledge and insight about my own conflict issues. They are not solely for individuals but have broad reaching applications. Many of you may be familiar with Jane Elliott’s brown eyes blue eyes presentations. This powerful exercise helps students feel what it’s like to be discriminated against, bullied and humiliated. Students are actually discriminated against by other students based on the color of their eyes. The process is quite successful at bringing a real and meaningful understanding of the ridiculous nature of racial discrimination. The University of Colorado also has several online courses on intractable conflict which reveal a great deal of clear information on the topic which I have found most helpful. These courses can be accessed by searching “Beyond Intractability”.
Everyone it seems has an idea of how to stop people from hating their fellows who are different in some way. The “other” is the great boogeyman to the frightened and misinformed. Let’s pull him out from under the bed and see how weak and powerless he truly is. Let’s assure these roadblocks to peace are pushed aside by the road grader of truth. I’m certain that seeing our next generations make strides in this direction is essential to that noble goal.
Our future depends on it.