What can we do in the New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization?
BY CHONA SANTANDER O’GALVIN
Being an American in 2017 was beyond disheartening. During these divided times, it’s hard to feel like anything we do is working to make a difference. I’ve had my share of heated exchanges, and it’s enough to make me want to lay low.
But I think of my kids. They’re nine and six years old, starting to develop opinions and perspectives influenced by current events children their age shouldn’t have to confront.
And when bad things happen in the world, it’s getting harder and harder to explain to them all the whys. Why someone got run over by a car during a protest. Why someone shot a bunch of people at a concert. Why a 16-year-old kid at my high school alma mater committed suicide in a school bathroom.
These are heavy issues, just the tip of the iceberg plaguing our communities right now.
We must persist. The communities in which we live, work and play — the very fabric of our melting pot country — depend upon our willingness to confront these difficult conversations of divisiveness. Only when we value the importance of engaging across differences do we build inclusive communities.
Author Stephen Covey identified a key dilemma in the edicts of communication: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Active listening is something I’ve employed as a parent. It comes in pretty handy when trying to change the world. That’s key.
We can’t just stick our fingers in our ears, selectively hearing only what we want. Arguing talking points to the peak of destroying personal relationships. Nor can we bury our heads in the sand, selectively shutting down when the conversation gets too hard.
It’s easy to wish our social media feeds were once again filled with annoying foodie pics or pointless fluffy cat videos. The days when topics of conversation were drama-free and not weighed down by “us versus them” have vanished. And, again, it’s easy to say, “I just don’t pay any mind to all that.”
But as a person of color, the reflection in my mirror prevents me from ignoring “all that.” I walk around very aware that I could be targeted for the color of my skin or the fact that I am a woman. I worry about my immigrant parents. I fear for my brothers and my husband. I agonize over my children.
Yet I persist. I persist in making my voice heard. I persist in calling out bullies. I persist in speaking up for those who can’t. And I persist in getting others to do the same.
The Independent News posed a question to community leaders, writers and artists: What can we do in the coming New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization? If you would like to share your own thoughts, respond to this project or even complain, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is a contributor to The Independent News.
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