It has been a rough couple weeks to try and think about doing things. Nothing seems as important as all the big things, right? Our daily lives are overflowing with insignificance. The outcome of the election was a surprise—regardless of which side you’re on—and the dust is taking its own sweet time to settle. I have read many moving, and inspiring suggestions for ways we can move forward from what feels like a very dark place where we see differences more clearly than the threads of sameness that binds us together as members of a nation.
While there is desperation in the air, our current situation also feels like an opportunity for a powerful reckoning. A moment where I/you/we can own my/your/our part in this situation that is tremendously larger than me/you/us.
Based on my shock at what was happening when I watched the election results coming in, I see that I have been unwilling to accept the concerns of large swaths of my fellow countrymen. I have resisted some grievances in part because it’s easier to look away from problems that we don’t know how to fix than to sit with how overwhelmed and ineffectual they make us feel.
The list of issues that I struggle with in this way is long--homelessness, climate change, the middle east (yes- all of it), violence against women and children, the failings of our food system, poverty, systemic racism—to name a few. Solutions, or even tangible progress on any of these issues seem so far away that I tend to ground out in a storm of futility before I do anything tangible about them.
Yesterday I spent some time at the ocean and I noticed my tendency, when faced with overwhelming things--like the magnificence of a landscape as grand as the Oregon coast-- to gravitate towards small things like shells and rocks caught in little drifts of sand, weathered wood bits, and beach glass. Whenever we come home from a day at the coast Michael has photos of sweeping panoramas and mine are all close ups of small creatures or patterns in the sand. Maybe it’s a stretch but I do think there might be a correlation here between my seashell photo collection and my tendency to shy away from the overarching challenges our culture is facing.
The big picture has the capacity both to stir and still me with its enormity. I am always inclined to focus on things of a scale that I can wrap my head and heart around. While it has been comforting recently to read so many beautiful writings about the triumphs of love and hard earned justice in our culture’s history, I have been yearning for something less grand than inspiration. I've been yearning for something that feels more like help.
Last night, when I found the Civil Conversations Project, this part of my brain that has been tense and jittery for weeks showed the first signs of softening. There is hope in this project of course, but there is also something I need even more than hope right now: practicum.
How do you take this beautiful hope and inspiration and live it in your own everyday life with all of the working, bill paying, laundry, appointments, etc? If you don’t get what I’m talking about just go to the site, download the Three Questions Guide, imagine a group of people slowing down to consider those questions(What are you feeling? What is the country that you long for? As your bravest self, what do you do now?), and tell me that it doesn’t make your eyes sweat...even just a little bit.
This project is small and enormous at once, right? I believe that work in the smallness is the most stable route to the enormity; that the direct knowing of one individual who is your other can shift the size of the distance you imagine between yourself and them.
Maybe we'll host an ask the questions event in the future. For now, we're hosting some other small things that may be of interest...