HOW MIGHT WE FIND OUR WAY TO KINDNESS IN A WORLD SO DIVIDED?
We are all worn out from the barrage of fear and anger messages vying for our emotions. It is disheartening at best to continually hear negative, dehumanizing and “othering” pronouncements about human beings who do not precisely match someone’s color, party, identity or spiritual choice. Social media, news silos, mis-labeling, our cultural tribes, COVID isolation, inflation, and scarcity have all made our separation accelerate and our compassion evaporate like Lake Powell to nearly empty.
Even the Christian “best of” admonitions like “love your neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor,” and “love your enemies” have been superseded by judgmental language and hateful rhetoric. Now efforts to scapegoat people of color or those without power seem to be hardening. We have even stopped trying to talk with members of our own families who hold opposite viewpoints about anything.
If we stop talking, stop listening, stop looking for opportunities to meet the real people we have stereotyped, how can we ever love anyone? Or ourselves?
WHAT IF WE COULD FIND A SAFE SPACE TO JUST TALK WITH SOMEONE OUTSIDE OUR CIRCLE?
To step away from our routines and circles of friends who reinforce what we think we already know, what we fear or worry about, longtime Morgantown residents Eve Faulkes and Susan Eason wanted to try something.
They wondered if people would welcome an opportunity to meet one-on-one in a private setting with someone of a different color to honestly listen and engage in conversation without worrying about who was overhearing. Eve had overheard 98-year-old Black Sarah Little wish that she could do just that: sit with a white person to ask what they really felt about her, and she could answer what they might not know.
It has been proven that people generally only change their opinions from personal experience. They created this project as a safe place to try such an experiment. Recordings from these willingly shared conversations have been edited to provide a sampling of what that experience was like for the participants. They are shared in the hopes that being only this far removed from doing it yourself might open some minds enough to entertain trying it yourself, or even make stereotypes get questioned.
Perhaps it would make people curious to read books that are about to be banned, books like The Diary of Ann Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird, from fear-peddling. They hope this project, after being experienced, seems less audacious and more doable to others to repeat.
IT WOULD TAKE HELP FROM A LOT OF PEOPLE
We have to thank the First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown, WV, which provided a grant to pursue this idea. The church’s adult education class and Dismantling Racism Together gave it full support as one of the ways we might make a difference in how with think about race in our country (the social construct with a long, troubled history that we are tempted to deny).
The 46 persons who answered their invitation to become listening partners have their admiration and gratitude. We are indebted to more than 20 artists of every color and medium who put hours unpaid into interpreting one of the conversations. Tremendous thanks to Zane and Weston Huggins at Full-Circle Design for creating the Introduction Videos and music for the project and for this landing website to explain it and promote the venues for the exhibit as it travels. Thanks to Mike Meszaros at Mountain State Motion Pictures for editing of the YouTube video conversations available with QR codes. Thanks to Lakin Davis and Austin Waugaman for technical advice. Thanks to WVPB for the radio interview and to USA Today for the plug. Thanks to the Morgantown Public Library for hosting the first exhibit and speaking participants, for the Greenbrier Historical Society for sponsoring the second one, and to the future venues to come.
And thank you for looking at this. Here’s hoping hope it sparks a next move for you.