It started with nail polish. The woman sitting next to me getting a manicure didn’t look like she lived in Laguna. I welcomed her to our city and commented on something benign like her nail polish color. She was from Texas and within a few minutes of talking I could tell that she and I were on opposite sides of political views. Normally I would retreat, but I was curious. How could a seemingly intelligent person think in a way that was so opposite to mine?
As the conversation progressed we found common ground. Her daughter was getting married soon. She told me about where they were looking for the wedding reception. I took copious notes as my daughter is in a serious relationship with a wonderful man who I would be proud to call my son-in-law.
She showed me a picture of the elk that her son and husband had recently shot. I did all that I could to not throw up, but realized, while this was not my thing, it was their constitutional right.
After my nails were dried I put my hand on her knee and said, “Thank you, I know we are on different ends of the political spectrum, but we found things about our humanity to share.” She clasped my hand, we looked each other in the eyes and knew that conversations like this must start happening all across our country to heal our dangerous divide.
Laguna’s Saturday Unity Rally
Honored to speak at this event, I shared my heart and talked about the importance of healing our country by talking to each other. In the audience, I noticed a really big guy with a shaved head wearing a black T-shirt and the skinny black sunglasses that you typically see on a low-rider motorcyclist. Because I believe that I must be the change I want to see, and because the police were standing nearby, and because we were warned that there could be infiltrators from Sunday night’s protesters among us, I went over to find out who he was. My paranoia level was way up. Threats were made to our mayor Toni and I didn’t want this guy to be the one who would execute them. After our conversation, he introduced me to his wife and I realized how dangerous preconceptions can be. I don’t know about his politics, but I know he was a valuable teacher for me about the danger of quick judgments that cause a divide.
Laguna prides itself with our embrace of diversity. But how far does that really go? Do we give more than lip service to our embrace of friends with different political views? Do we make them wrong and ourselves right? Are we separating people into “others”?
Last March, my husband and I boarded a small flat-bottomed boat for a fascinating journey up the Mekong River delta in Cambodia. Their people, mainly Buddhist, greet you with hands pointed upwards near their heart in the Namaste spirit of “The God within me greets the God with in you”. Sweet people with amazing love in their hearts and overwhelming grace that can only come with forgiveness. We visited Buddhist monasteries, meditated with the monks and received blessings with a shower of jasmine flowers. I loved it!
We also visited the Killing Fields, where more than a million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge as part of the Cambodian genocide. Stuff like this turns my stomach. Man’s inhumanity to man is tragic.
One of our cruise-mates was the director of the Holocaust Museum in Seattle. I wanted to get her opinion about what we saw. It reminded me so much of the Holocaust. “How can people be so cruel to one another?” I asked. She explained, “it starts with identifying a person or a group as the ‘other’. We see it on the playgrounds. The child who is perceived as weaker is picked on, isolated, labeled as the other and bullied.
“This is where it starts. People become fractionated into others- they are not like us, instead of acknowledging how much we really are alike.”
The floods in Texas. A black man holds two white children in his arms and brings them to safety. No one is asking any questions, except, “are you ok?” No one is saying anything, but “hold on tight, we are going to get you out of here.” Tears of gratitude come from both the rescued and the rescuer. People helping people, bound by our common humanity.
Is our country on the precipice of a civil war? There is such division, such hatred. Are we a country of others? Can’t we find common ground, and share our humanity? Do we need a disaster to pull us together? Thanksgiving is coming in a few months. Let’s start turkey-talk today, find the common ground of our humanity, even if it is something as benign as the color of nail polish.
Local resident Rita Conn has led local protests over nuclear waste storage at closed San Onofre power plant.