A Place to Start

I am feeling overwhelmed lately, though not despairing. Far from it. The confluence of factors bearing on us now is unique, and that means the potential for truly creative, unprecedented solutions is great. As a society, we can’t heal what we won’t feel, and we are doing some big, long overdue feeling now.

I am preoccupied not with the conundrum of “What should I say?” because words are cheap and they come to me easily. I’m more concerned with, “What should I do?” This article had some helpful ideas for white people who want to do something about racial justice. I find activities like donating to effective organizations much more worthwhile than bleating on social media, when we know those platforms propagate lies six times faster than they do truths.

It’s also well documented that when we “speak out” on social media, we’re less likely to do anything else on behalf of a just cause. We make a gesture and lose motivation to do anything more.  But if the Twitterverse is your thing, go for it.

I’m struck by how many issues have been ignited in recent months. Racism, police brutality, public health, personal freedom, voter suppression, mass telecommuting in all its messy glory, distance learning, media ethics, and of course, politics, politics, politics. The litany is a bomb cyclone of hot buttons, such that there’s something in the mix to stress everybody.

This reminds me of the first lesson taught in the study of conflict management. You boost the chances of any difficult situation coming to a constructive, consensual conclusion if you can approach it calmly. A non-anxious presence–which is very different from standing passively by–signals to all involved that we can tackle our differences without attacking each other. Done right, the non-anxious presences models civility, hope, respect for all, and personal responsibility.

It’s an exhausting role. I used to take it on as a divorce and family mediator, but also in interminable meetings at Social Services. My youthful clients, their families, and a bunch of social workers would try to thrash out a plan for moving a kid’s situation in the right direction. While advocating for the child, I would try to keep track of everybody’s body language and nonverbal cues, do a lot of re-framing, listen much more than I spoke, and intercede if somebody tested the boundaries.

A good conflict manager can herd cats without the cats knowing they’ve been herded, and it all starts with being able to find the quiet, strong, loving place inside, and offering that place for others to share. Winning arguments starts with facts, logic and rhetoric but winning hearts starts with kindness, patience, and focus.

Says me, and some good conflict managers. So how do you protect and nurture the quiet, strong, loving place inside in these daunting times? (And yes, oh by the way, A Lady’s Dream Come True downloads from the major retail outlets starting Tuesday, and you can already buy the ebook from the webstore and the print book from Amazon).

I’ll donate $50 to the charity of one commenter’s choice, so starting chiming in!


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24 comments on “A Place to Start

  1. I watched the demonstration in Boston last Sunday night ,with my daughter. Was amazed at the the looting and destruction which took place on live tv. Camera crews were filming people breaking into stores and stealing clothes, sneakers jewelry and waving at the camera crews. Boston common was afire— every single trash can was torched.

    Boston’s Mayor was not amused by what happened but he and the Police commissioner called for healing. There were demonstrations throughout the week. One was a near riot, the others have been peaceful.

    My daughter and I had several conversations about the current state of events. I gained a lot of information listening to her answers to my questions. She sent me a couple of articles to read . And I stayed off social media for a few days…very helpful.

    It is a scary time…The virus, death and destruction are not easy things to live with. I am getting out every morning with the oldies ( Greg and Rose) and walking. Am walking every night and reading before bedtime. Getting lost in a book is helpful to me.I have baked and cooked dinners all week. And bought flowers..hanging pots and zinnias to add color to the back deck. Staying home has eased my mind.

    • Dialing back social media seems to be a theme lately, and one I approve of. I think social media has betrayed its promise to create community in favor of raiding our privacy and poisoning us with steady diet of lies, anxiety, and fear-mongering.

      I’m sorry the protests around you turned ugly. Baltimore went through that in 2015 over Freddie’s Gray’s death.

      I’m glad you got some productive discussion with your daughter out of an unsettling experience, and glad the old guard is keeping you company on your walks. So many great ideas were born in the middle of somebody’s quiet ramble, and when is keeping company with a pup ever a bad idea?

  2. It is hard for me to stay calm during disagreements or confrontations. I tend t withdraw from the situation quite strongly, and so don’t engage, which means progress won’t happen. Childhood habits!

    I find that I do much better mentally with only minimal online presence, which in turn means that I am less involved in making a difference, unfortunately. It’s a hard line to walk to keep myself mentally healthy but help others. And yep, I totally recognize that is coming from a place of privilege, which I am incredibly lucky to have

    • You will be pleased to know that there’s data indicating that foghorning on social media actually REDUCES activism and effectiveness. We tend to feel as if having said our big loud piece on social media, that we’ve done something.
      The way social media works, we probably either preached to the choir or got un-friended. Neither result moves the needle, but it does let a little of the air out of our tires in terms of feeling obligated to stand up for our beliefs.
      This is why big polluters are all for minor, individual initiatives like outlawing plastic bags. We dutifully tote our re-usables into the store with us, and our support for effective measures like carbon taxes, drops. The big polluters know that, and loudly support the “environmental initiatives” that keep them from having to stop polluting.
      Which makes you give social media a REAL side-eye.

  3. Darkness can not take out the dark only light can do that—Hate cannot take out hate—only love can do that.Very powerful words spoken by Dr Martin Luther King several decades ago.Will we listen now.I hope so.

    • That seems to be another question in the air here in the US anyway. We demonstrated (and rioted) over Rodney King, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray… Will this time be any different?
      I hope so.

  4. I live in a lovely suburban area of Chicago–the south suburbs–it’s an interesting area. It’s diverse and rich in history. And also close to the riots and looting on the southside of Chicago. We had some marching and some looting in our community and that has changed our lives.

    Last Sunday, Hubby and I decided to replace some blinds in one of the boy’s bedrooms. We got in the car and off we went. When we got to the big box store, it was closed–on a Sunday afternoon at 1:45. We hopped back in the car and drove down the street to another big box store–this time, all the glass doors and windows were boarded up. In fact, as we drove back home, many grocery stores and PHARMACIES were closed and boarded up. Most stores and restaurants and businesses were closed until Wednesday or Thursday this week. Roads were closed and you couldn’t get off certain exits on the expressways. My brother called as he was on the road to tell me as he drove through my area (he’s an IT guy and had a service call in my area)there were armored tanks at the exits.

    I work with an arts alliance in the area and we had a Zoom meeting on Thursday. All of us were reeling from the events. We discovered one of our business members had lost their business to looters. I’ve cried myself dry.

    Many arts groups are making statements about the situation. I will craft a statement for my chamber choir today and post it tonight or in the morning.

    You asked how we find the quiet and strong and loving places inside during times such as these. It’s been a tough week. I’ve washed windows and done laundry. I’ll change my closet to summer wear tomorrow. We are having a very simple meal tonight–on the grill–so nothing too much for me to do. I plan to spend the rest of the day before dinner on the patio, looking at the flowers and paging through magazines (Victoria and Cottage and Bungalow). I would read, am rereading The Virtuoso, but my mind is too distracted to follow along and paging through mags and looking at the pictures helps me calm down.

    After dinner, I have to work on our statement and I don’t look forward to it. 🙁

    • I got a taste of the same, “Is this really us?” feeling when Baltimore rioted in 2015. At the time, my contracts were managed out of a state government office in Baltimore, and the office wasn’t in the best part of town. Our program managers were expected to get to work, despite the bonfires, police patrols, wreckage… Just walk fast, don’t look at anybody, and hope luck is with you.
      And as somebody said to me, “Now you know how every Black mom feels every time she sends her kid around the corner for a loaf of bread. Danger on all sides, no safety, no rules that can be trusted… You hope you’re safe but you’re not.”

      Oh. Yikes.

  5. I am always so curious about your conflict management program, probably partly because I find conflict frightening but there is always a good lesson when you bring it into your conversation. Right now I have a hard time feeling optimistic as I don’t see White people understanding that Racism is a White problem not a POC problem. I work in a bookstore and a number of our staff couldn’t safely make it to work because of civil unrest last week, we had to leave early because of curfew, and we have had a sudden spike in orders for antiracist books. This means we are working hard to fill orders and we are trying to get books that are out at the publishers and we are waiting for reprinting. But the tantrum-ing of people who can’t get a book they want instantly, with no thought to what that means to other people’s lives to meet that need for instant gratification, is so deflating especially when the book is White Fragility, How to Be an Antiracist, Me and White Supremacy etc. Privilege is incredibly hard for people to admit to, or even acknowledge as a true thing. I really hope we make great strides toward equality, but with a system founded on inequality we need to make profound changes. So I hope for the best, try to be tolerant of White folks just waking up, and breathe deeply. History is a long, hard process so I try to keep a macro-perspective and get plenty of sleep.

    • THAT is priceless, “Gimme my White Fragility book NOW!!!” Just about says it all.
      The basis of conflict management is that conflict can strengthen relationships, if it’s handled well, but handling it well takes courage, resilience and luck. We grasp this idea when a marriage goes through a bad patch and comes out stronger for the work we did, but it’s harder to see at a community or societal or international level.
      I studied at Eastern Mennonite University, and the Mennos, like the Amish and the Quakers, have a long tradition of supporting non-violent social change. I was one of three North Americans in my cohort of thirty students, and just being around an international community was a great education.
      A lot of the material that was core curriculum 20-25 years ago–institutional injustice, restorative justice, militarization of public spaces and activities, the school to prison pipeline–has since found its way into general awareness. That gives me cause for hope.
      And makes me think about a PhD (smack me, please).

  6. Would you give me permission to post this on my Facebook page? It’s a wonderful explanation of what has come to a boil in this country, with helpful pointers about conflict management and being a non-anxious presence.

    We are okay at home, and thankfully, I can also work from home. As for what I do to not run shrieking down the street (because my household contains me, my husband, my 23 year old son, 3 large unruly dogs, and 9 cats) – I remember how blessed I am that we are all still here. My ‘pests’ are my blessings. I think of how it will be in 10 years, and rejoice in the present.

    If you pick this post, please select the charity of your choice.

    • The long view is helpful to me too. I think about where we were when I was born–interracial marriage was a felony in sixteen states, women could not have credit in their own names, pay discrimination on the basis of race and gender was legal–and we have come a long, long way.

      I hope I live long enough to see us go a lot further too, and that we don’t melt the planet before we figure out that love another is the prime directive.

  7. I was fortunate to be raised in a housing project on the Southside of Chicago in the 1960’s. At that time I in my life I was the minority person. I had the experience of being in the high school lunch room when a rival gang from another high school came & began shooting. I was there at school when my fellow students the African Americans & Hispanics walked out in protest after MLK was killed. I didn’t understand what was going on so I just walked out with them. We didn’t go far just to the park across the street to hear students give speeches & talk about how they felt. I learned a lot. Some things did change but not enough. So now as a nation we have these growing pains to go through again in my lifetime.
    I made sure that my kids were registered & have voted since they were 18 yrs old. I urge my younger relatives to get their friends to register & vote. To see beyond party lines to the elected person & the issues.
    My loving place is nurtured by not being on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Instead by the old fashion way of either calling or seeing my relatives & friends. Plus taking some quiet time for myself.

    • The experience of being marginalized has profound consequences, often by creating stronger community at the margin than the people at the center will ever experience. I hope you write your memoirs, because your experience was unique, and doubtless holds more insights worth documenting.
      (And yes, vote, vote-y, vote, vote!)

  8. Let’s see. If I take a hit and find myself in an uncomfortable situation, I have a little speech I give myself in my head about not letting myself get dragged down to “their” level. That I would stick to and act on my personal…
    I have a self talk speech I give myself about maintaining my own standards of honor and integrity and not allowing myself to be tempted into the “mud” with whoever, whatever I am up against. I have never regretted it but I have had a heck of a time living through it.

    Also I always try to give people the benefit of a doubt as well,

  9. It helps me to remember that the people in conflict are doing the best that they can as am I. If one can try to look at the situation from someone else’s perspective, it can help take the vehemence from disagreement.

    It also helps me to remember that people need to be heard… they want to be heard and, maybe in their world, no one is listening. So, I try hard to listen (I’m not always successful, but I try).

    To protect me, I avoid news and social media like the plague. I do the things that soothe… pet or play with my kitties, read a lovely and funny book, look at pictures of things I like (usually animal related: puffins, cats, dogs, seahorses, Highland cows, etc.), or sit quietly for 5 minutes and just breathe.

    • I am reading the Carsington series, the Slightys, the Spy Masters… This is how I got through the single-mom years, the litigating years, the How Can I Be Pregnant year… Bless those keeper authors. They feel like my fairy godmothers.

  10. Yoga has helped me tremendously with maintaining inner peace and balance. The classes have all been online since the pandemic lockdown began. The teachers have shared what they have found in writings and other media. The group of yogis have been encouraged to send healing, understanding, and peace collectively into the universe. The topic of Tuesday evening’s class was darkness, as seen through the lines of the song “The Sound of Silence.” The darkness is always there. How you respond to it determines your own wellbeing. I have spent much time in the last two weeks reflecting on the prayer of St. Francis. The message is simple, but very challenging. You have to look beyond your own self in order to truly be an instrument of peace. I am a very introverted person, I rarely feel comfortable in large groups. I don’t see myself being comfortable in the midst of a protest. I would rather work behind the scenes to enable change.

    I had to reprimand my cousin in Canada for passing judgment on the protesters and looters, he lumped them all together in the bad category. I wrote in reply that he obviously hadn’t learned anything in his school history classes about slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement, if he truly felt that using the military to end protests that often were peaceful. He also blamed Barak Obama for the current protests and riots. He said that had Obama sent the military to Ferguson six years ago, the events of the past weeks wouldn’t have happened. He was spouting the hateful rhetoric of the far right media. I have previously told him to listen to additional media sources for a fuller viewpoint of our country. I haven’t contacted him since. A friend suggested that when I do next contact him that I respectfully ask him to refrain from politics. A daunting task when he has complained about politics for many years. I have never passed judgment on his government. I have simply said that all government officials make decisions that not everyone agrees with. The irony of the situation is that he has Canadian and United States citizenship and maintains a United States passport, yet he ended his message to me with “God help your country.” Technically, it is his country, too. I have refrained from pointing that out and telling him to renounce the United States citizenship if he doesn’t care about what happens to the country. And the riots that happened in 1967 in Detroit have not been repeated in the same way in 2020. Community leadership has limited the riots and looting. Detroit has not been perfect, but there has been less violence than many other cities have experienced. I hope that the founders of Focus: Hope are pleased to know that the organization they set up after the 1967 riots have produced community leaders that have organized people to peacefully protest.

    • I know many people who swear by the benefits of yoga, and feel all out of sorts if they let it slide. I can’t say I’ve ever found a physical activity that works as effectively for me, but being around people whose values are compatible with mine, being around kind people who listen to me… I need that. When I get it (thanks folks), I am ever so much more healthy in spirit.