A colleague passed along Timothy Egan's editorial Good Poor, Bad Poor. This piece reviews some of the recent House decisions to cut food programs starting next year and age old arguments about whether aid programs encourage laziness.
While Egan does a nice job of outlining the master narratives surrounding this debate, he misses some of the more marginalized perspectives. For example, while he talks about different views about the origins of poverty he does not interview anyone truly poor.
Sure, he could easily rectify that. Ask a few articulate homeless people about their plight. What if, instead, he quoted people as they spoke? What if he quoted a mentally ill person uttering gibberish? This might make the point far better. It has probably been done.
I'm just pondering what if we made room for not just a diversity of perspectives, but also a diversity in how people speak? A narrative approach to conflict resolution (my focus area) consistently calls into question who gets to speak and the kinds of speaking required. (See the Narrative Center for Conflict Resolution for more info)
When we say "diversity" we often just mean, different races or sexualities. It's cool and very politically correct now to include gays, hispanics, blacks, asians when creating a program or reviewing applicants. Diversity, however, has not yet really expanded to include the mentally ill, drug & sex addicted, incarcerated, sex workers, and unintelligible.
Aren't they part of the society too?
And if we're really committed to diversity ought those voices be legitimatized?
To me, sometimes it feels like it's fine to be hispanic etc. so long as you sound white. The diversity movement hasn't yet evolved to include different ways of being and appreciation of difference.
This afternoon a colleague and I were chewing on the question,
How do you really get people who are in conflict to listen to one another?
She told me about this reality show Duck Dynasty written about in today's NY Times. Robertson, one of the characters on the show, is a 67 year old man who grew up in a segregated South. He said about black suffering,
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. ...They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! ...Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
From his perspective, he never "heard" their suffering because he was listening for it in his way of speaking. If people were not saying "those doggone white people" they were not suffering. This is not uncommon.
He wanted them to issue a formal complaint the way a white person would. But he did not understand that the ways in which blacks did not have the privilege to speak in this way or did not believe they would be heard if they did so.
We can hear the language we know. If that is privilege, we hear privilege.
In this way conflict resolution ought to focus less on getting people listen to one another and more on expanding the amount of frequencies we can actually hear. True, Mr. Robertson, they may have been happier while singing, but they surely were not being treated as equals. Much inequality is invisible to the privileged.
There's a terrific scene in Jane Austin's Mansfield Park when Fanny Price begins to learn about the suffering in Antigua caused by the slave trade. Her mind grapples to understand what's happening, but as smart and educated as she is, she cannot. The ways in which africans were being treated was so beyond her world, she could not really process it, never mind take action.
This is just a reminder that just because someone isn't telling us they are suffering, doesn't mean they are not. Maybe this is a good way to enter this holiday week...enjoy the "singing" and just know that those around you may be suffering in ways you cannot even begin to imagine or hear. That, my friend, is the privilege and gift of your well-being...and maybe, just maybe, you can help guide people out of their suffering.
(for ways out of that suffering...see my blog on Understanding and Releasing Suffering
Just returned from 3 days from the conference Historical Justice and Memory: Questions of Rights and Accountability in Contemporary Society at Columbia University.
After hearing roughly 48 presentations, I'm left with a full brain, a touched heart, plenty of questions and some exciting ideas. In contexts where oppression still rules, clearly historical dialogue must be allowed, elaborated and evolved. Marginalized narratives, stories, perspectives that exist only in whispers and between trusted friends may need to become public if such atrocities and the terror of oppression are truly put to bed.
And yet, must we mark every grave? Are we to remember every one who ever died? So many deaths appear to us a tragic..whether we die from a car crash, a mass murderer, starvation, malaria, suicide, cancer...Other than dying do something truly heroic, or doing something we love, or quietly in our old age surrounded by loved ones..most deaths can seem tragic. So, if we commemorate every site of every "tragic" death, will there be any room on our planet for life? Each year there are increasingly more dead than living. "Doesn't everything die at last and too soon?" - asks poet Mary Oliver.
How can we then create sites that help us define who we want to be (loving not hateful) but do not leave us so mired in the past we feel unable to enjoy this moment?
So, I'm taken now by the idea of creating commemorative spaces that bring or support life...gardens, community arts centers, safe houses, schools..rather than ones that show tortured souls carrying the weight of humanity's shortcomings.
And, in this sense, I prefer to see the transformation a site of pain (mass grave, former Concentration Camp) into one that reflects our better, more evolved, more delicate understanding of life. As I crunched silently through the snow at Treblinka's death camp in Poland, I thought..."Let's bring U2 here and have a concert." Let's reclaim the space and transform it...not just commemorate it. Let's not leave this heavy vibration in the air...let's give these once tortured souls a good time.
Let's transform the Dying slave back in to David.