Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Chaos and Calm

Photo: Acerting Art/YouTube
Sturm und Drang

Can’t help thinking that whatever adds to the current chaos is bad for everything — people, creatures, trees, air. Throughout history and mythologies, chaos is generally not considered a good thing.

What to do?

I like people who seek calm and who, when enmity is abroad in the land, try harder to find commonalities.

Yesterday as I was reading an advice column in the Globe, I saw a situation I recognized. A reader was upset that on social media, her hair stylist had criticized a politician she supports, and she was thinking of switching to a different salon. Maybe even telling her stylist the reason.

To the columnist’s credit, she didn’t think much of her reader’s rigidity.

But I recognized that thought process. Four years ago, I experienced some of the same impulses after reading a social media post. Fortunately, I came out safe on the other side. It didn’t seem like leaving my stylist would have been the action of a grownup, making a break with someone that I liked, that I shared many common interests with, that I never discussed politics with anyway. If I couldn’t build a bridge to someone I enjoyed talking to about recipes, children, Halloween costumes, nature, museums, and elephants, how could I (or the country) ever move beyond the point where we seem so stuck?

And there are other things to consider. I could afford to leave. I had options. She couldn’t afford to find a different job if she wanted to get away from the high percentage of clients whose politics opposed hers. She needed the income.

Another thought: shouldn’t that advice-column reader and I both be thinking about why hairdressers might have the kind of lives and experiences that make them gravitate toward a different kind of candidate or listen to a different kind of station for news? Who am I to say what this hardworking single mom’s life experience tells her?

A writer I admire who has lived on both sides of the current divide has been doing a great job of explaining one side to the other. Her name is Sarah Smarsh, and I heartily recommend the book that introduced me to her, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.

I also appreciated her insights in this recent Guardian article about the presidential election, and I’m on my library’s waiting list for her upcoming book on Dolly Parton, She Come By It Natural. Get to know her.

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Photo: Erin Clark for the Boston Globe
Lucy Wisson hugged her son, Giani DiTrapani, in their Port Huron home. Giani, a junior at Michigan State University, had always shared his mom’s political beliefs. Then in fall 2017, he went to college.

A recent Boston Globe story by Liz Goodwin (here) about how politics is both dividing — and not dividing — families spoke to a growing preoccupation of mine. Even the Dalai Lama tweets about it: how do we find common ground and things to love about people who think very differently from us? Next to climate change and inequality, that may be the biggest challenge of our time.

What struck me most in reading about the religious, politically conservative young man who went off to college and began to think differently from his mother was the mother’s tolerance and ability to change enough to stay close to him. I thought, Wow, I really don’t agree with all her views, but I do see that there are things about which she has an open mind.

We can always learn.

The Lothlorien elf Haldir in the Fellowship of the Ring says, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but there is still much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps greater.” Now there’s a thought to ponder! That love in times of darkness grows more powerful.

So here’s a poem to help us all remember that we really do know how to appreciate things about people who are not like us.

Small Kindnesses
~ a poem by Danusha Lameris ~

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
“down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
“to let you by. Or how strangers still say ‘bless you’
“when someone sneezes, a leftover
“from the Bubonic plague. ‘Don’t die,’ we are saying.
“And sometimes, when you spill lemons
“from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
“pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
“We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
“and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
“at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
“to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
“and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
“We have so little of each other, now. So far
“from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
“What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
“fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here,
“have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead — you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’ ”

Oh, my, oh, my! Bless all poets!

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Photo: Christa Case Bryant/Christian Science Monitor
Krista Badiane, a sustainability consultant, is raising two daughters with her Senegalese husband in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She always imagined settling on the East or West Coast but says it would be hard to recreate the quality of life they have in Michigan.

The country is divided, or so commentators tell us over and over. Sometimes I wonder if it’s exaggerated. Many of us make a point of enjoying all the things we have in common with folks whose politics seem to be different.

In a recent article, we also learn that when people start living side-by-side with those who have a different world view, benefits rub off in both directions.

Christa Case Bryant writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Aaron Ofseyer and his wife, Anne Rosenbaum, planned on staying a few years, but eight years later they’re still in Grand Rapids. They’ve bought a house, had two children, joined a synagogue, gotten library cards, and are regulars at cultural events. Like many transplants from costly coastal cities, they find Grand Rapids to be welcoming and affordable. …

“Ofseyer and Ms. Rosenbaum also like the diversity of political viewpoints that gets them out of their liberal bubble. When they eat out in hip neighborhoods, they sometimes look over to see fellow diners praying or holding a Bible study group.

“ ‘We’re forced to confront people who are different than us … [and] even though politically you might have a different frame of reference, there’s way more that unites us than divides us politically,’ says Ofseyer. …

“Across the country, young professionals are carving out a new niche in second-tier cities where their wages go further. Most are seeking a more affordable lifestyle, as well as a stronger sense of community and the opportunity to make more of an impact. That this movement is largely from Democratic-run cities to conservative corners of the country raises questions over what political values may emerge, and whether it’s possible to find common ground in a hyper-partisan era. …

“Says Joel Kotkin, executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism, ‘It’ll be interesting to see whether we see a new politics, which combines some of the social values of the blue states with some of the cultural beliefs of the red states,’ like religion, community, and self-sufficiency. …

“Among young professionals who do migrate, there is a strong desire for community, says Anne Snyder, a writer and scholar who studies civil society in small and mid-sized cities. Their formative years were shaped by disillusionment with politics and distrust of institutions such as marriage.

“ ‘I think Millennials are just so hungry – hungrier than their predecessors were – to experience the sense of belonging that I think is a timeless need and desire, and have not wound up finding it in their national political expression,’ says Ms. Snyder, a millennial herself.

“That makes the social-media generation less ideological and eager to make a practical contribution wherever they live. ‘The things that matter most are serving your community, people in the flesh,’ she says.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here. I’d love to hear how you maintain friendly relations across real or perceived political divides in your world.

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Huck Gutman, the chief of staff for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is a man who knows the value of putting your head into a poem once in a while and leaving the chaos behind. And according to the Boston Globe, an increasing number of people are signing up for his poetry listserv.

“The chief of staff for the Senate’s liberal firebrand has created an unlikely patch of common ground. That place lies in the power of the poetry that longtime University of Vermont professor Huck Gutman … distributes by e-mail to 1,700 readers who include all the Senate chiefs of staff, several White House staffers, university presidents, academics, journalists, and former students.” Read more.

Wallace Stegner has written, “No place is a place until it has a poet.” In fact, there are countries where poetry, ancient and modern, is core to national identity. Perhaps surprising to Americans, one such country is Iran.

I have blogged about Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran before. It’s taking me a while to finish it because, for a travel book, it is seriously intellectual. (Here is a post in which author Jason Elliot describes the earliest known electric battery. And here is my post called “Horse Agrees Not To Be Extinct.”)

One of the most intriguing aspects of Elliot’s book is how many ordinary people he meets who have interests that would seem quite high brow to the average Westerner. Workmen who know all about ancient architecture. Postal employees who are still angry that the Greeks twisted the facts about Persia hundreds of years ago. And people who love poetry.

In one anecdote, Elliot makes a vague poetic reference to a seatmate on an airplane who encourages him to go on and read from the blind poet Rudaqi. “I read the first couplet in Persian,” writes Elliot, “but before I could reach the second [my seatmate] said, ‘No, no, it’s like this.’ ” He reads the rest with deep feeling, adding, “Poetry … makes us very emotional.”

Similarly, at a private home, Elliot watches a man rapt and gently swaying to a musical recitation of classical poetry. The man turns out to be the Foreign Minister.

And when Elliot goes to see the chief of immigration police in Isfahan on a routine matter, he interrupts him reading a poetry book and observes that “the final syllables as he stood up, with an unmistakably distant look on his face, were still fading visibly from his lips.”

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