Tag Archives: briding the partisan divide; racial healing; open heart; open mind;

Be the Change #40: Dare to be Open

Raising children sometimes feels like a 25-year emergency.  You’re in the eye of the hurricane all the time, from sleepless nights with babies, to constant chauffering with tweens, to the college and post-college years when they’re moving in an out of your house every few months, with their mystifying electronics and 35 pairs of sneakers. 

Then, suddenly, they’re out on their own for good.  The quiet settles like dust, and many parents wonder what they’re going to do with themselves now.  Some people take up golf or bicycling.  Some just settle in front of the TV and wait for grandchildren.  Many find satisfying volunteer work. 

My co-worker Rick and his wife Carol chose to work on their spiritual growth via connections with other human beings.

Rick and Carol have been committed Christians all their lives, and in recent years, as their 3 children matured and left home one by one, Rick talked a lot about planning the next phase of their lives, often speaking wistfully of friends who were overseas doing missionary work. 

As it turned out, they didn’t have to cross an ocean to find their mission.  They are gregarious people, and also enjoy being “problem solvers” as Rick puts it.  They love being a shoulder to cry on, and helping if they can, when a friend is having trouble:  divorce, death in the family, wayward children, illness, emotional upsets.  They recently doubled down on that when a friend’s daughter, who has a physical disability, needed a place to live.  Rick and Carol welcomed her into their home, where she stayed for several months until she was on her feet again. 

Their experience with Rachel inspired them to want to reach out more, and they decided that they wanted to put a special emphasis on making friends with people who are different from them.  Shortly after Rachel moved out, a young African-American man was going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions while Carol was outside raking leaves.  Carol not only bought a subscription, but had a long chat with him and ended up inviting him into their house.  Over the course of one conversation with this young man, these two white Christian conservatives learned some things about racism, mass incarceration and the private prison system that they honestly hadn’t known before.  They were shocked and appalled, just as those of us on the left have been appalled by those same things for a long time.  But they truly hadn’t known – until it was made personal for them by a young man to whom they had the courage to open their hearts. 

There is so much to learn from their experience. 

First, there is no substitute for person-to-person connection.  I’ve felt that for a long time, and Rick’s story just reinforces it.  Now more than ever, we must connect with others, and, like Rick and Carol, I believe we must make a special effort to connect with people who are unlike us or might disagree with us.

Second, when we make those contacts, we have to be open to being changed.  I would go so far as to say that it isn’t really contact if you go into it thinking that you’re going to have an impact on the other person but they aren’t going to have any impact on you.  Because Rick and Carol were committed to spiritual growth – which inevitably implies change – their hearts and minds were opened.  Yes, that can happen – but only when we put the human connection ahead of our ideology.