Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the season of peace is so unpeaceful

It's the Christmas season. It's a time for giving. For generosity. For good will. For peace.

But this year it seems there's so little of the latter.

In fact, in my 42 years on this earth, I don't think there's been a time that I have felt this way. I'm an optimistic person and I look for the good and I can see positive things spill from not-so-good situations. But right now I just feel like there's such an unrest and such a lack of peace in the world at a time when we should feel it most. At Christmas a lot of the negative or the disagreements in various arenas can kind of be put the side temporarily. This year there seems to be so much of it at the forefront. Too much to brush aside.

I feel it locally as there seems to be so much animosity of late toward local village officials and school board members. Elections are coming up the spring and tensions are already building.

I feel it in our country as the recent weeks have brought forth the most intense race issues I have seen in my lifetime and a lack of disrespect for law enforcement spreads.

And beyond our borders a war against terror continues and our military continues a fight that seems never-ending while we hear threats from other sources.

On a local level, I respect our leaders. I respect those who want to become leaders in the community. I see so much moving our village toward goals that will benefit us all. I find myself wishing we could go back a decade when the interference of social media didn't proliferate the negativity, yet I can appreciate it's role in distributing information and creating a platform that hadn't been there.

Internationally, there's a particular feeling of being helpless. You're one minuscule fish in an enormous pond and in waters that are foreign and sometimes so hard to understand and navigate.

In so many situations, I really try to see it from opposing views. I try not to jump to conclusions. I try to look at all sides and see the pros and cons.

With race issues, attempting to see things from another perspective is key, but acknowledging that you can never fully understand the other's point of view is essential. There are many difference in black culture and in white culture and in every other culture. It doesn't mean that one has to agree with the other. It doesn't mean that one has to follow the beliefs of the other. It doesn't mean that we can't see one another as simply human beings rather than being one of another group. Differences can bring people together as much as push them apart.

As I was growing up, I came from a community that was nearly all white and was bussed to a high school that was nearly all black. There had been a lot of discord in the previous decade as the bussing was initiated to integrate the school district. I had heard people talk of that time and about riots and fights and cops with dogs patrolling the halls and was really scared to attend the school.

My experiences there were so different than what I had heard and what I had feared. While I learned there were differences in culture, I learned how much the same we were, too. I remember the days in my homeroom where I recall there being only one other white student. The teacher, a black man, could not have been more kind and caring and encouraging and a better symbol of an ideal role model. Sitting beside me in class was the child of a physician and the two who graduated as valedictorian and salutatorian. In another row was a young girl who was sweet and shy and pregnant her freshman year with her second child (I believe she went on to have one more child before graduation.) In another row was a quiet young man who wore the same clothes for days in a row. I believe he was shuffling back and forth staying with siblings and relatives as his parents weren't in his life. I remember him once talking about having not eaten the day before. Within that room were kids of so many walks of life, all of the same race.

Maybe I'm looking through that slightly skewed nostalgic view that we sometimes have when looking back on our youth, but I don't recall many problems when I was there. I never was involved in any physical altercations. I was never threatened. I never came across any drugs or weapons. Maybe it was that it was a different time. Maybe it was that those who might be referred to as "thugs" today didn't stay in school - the dropout rate was pretty high and those who caused trouble were sent elsewhere or didn't come back. Maybe it was because I was in that neighborhood pretty much only during school hours when we were in a supervised and controlled environment and I would have encountered more problems if I was around there more often at night and on weekends. I learned during my time there how misleading stereotypes are.

I can say there were a few occasions where I did feel entirely out of place being in the minority, like when I attended school dances and not one song by a white artist was played. Another was when I heard in the school announcements about an arts competition that had cash prizes and scholarships to be awarded. When I went to my counselor to get an application, she told me it was only open to black students. It stung. It was something I wanted to have offered to me, but I wasn't eligible because of the color of my skin. It seemed really unfair. At first I it made me feel angry, but then I realized that this is what it feels like when the tables are turned. I can't say that I know what it feels like to be black, but in that moment I felt what it was like to be discriminated against because of color and after initially feeling unhappy about it, it made me feel sympathy. I realized that a few years before high school when there were only a handful of black kids in the junior high I attended, that they must have felt out of place quite often and were probably feeling at times like they weren't treated the same. It was an experience that made me consider difference and often disadvantages in race when I had really not looked before.

I continued at the school for my entire high school career. I went back to work there after I graduated. Every day I drove into this all-black neighborhood. Every day I continued to work and interact with those in another race and it was peaceful. And I wish I felt that peace again. And I wish everyone could feel that peace - of all ages and classes and races.

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