A wise man once said to me, “When I graduated from high school, I knew everything. When I finished college, I realized there were a few things I didn’t really know anything about. By the time I received my masters, I realized there was only one or two areas in which I was really an expert. But when I finished my doctorate, I finally realized that I really knew nothing about anything.”
I think I was in my first year of college when he said this to me. And so, as someone who was still feeling pretty smart, pretty learned, pretty on top of the world, I could only nod in my own sense of “understanding this” as just one more sign that I did, in fact, know all that was necessary for me to know. But, while education certainly has been part of teaching me in the fact that I really know precious little about anything, I actually think my greater teacher has been time and experience. The longer I am on this planet, the more I realize how little I truly understand about pretty much anything.
I write as a way to deal with all that I don’t understand, as a way to try to process through the many levels and layers of non-understanding that I experience. As William Faulkner once said, “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.”
But this morning I simply found myself aware of how little I understand of other people: their motives, their decisions, their beliefs, even.
But rather than seeing this as a failing, I’m seeing it more as an invitation. I want to learn, I want to grow. And I find that in my learning, there is also growing. In my exploring and talking to others, especially, perhaps, others who see the world very differently than I do, I do grow.
A small group in my church is taking the Brownicity Course: What Lies Between Us. While our group had been reading a number of wonderful books on Racism in the United States, I have to say, this course that we are now taking is absolutely incredible. It covers so much material and backs all of it with resources, readings, podcasts, videos, etc. It is a very inexpensive course that has far more information and data in it than I could have expected and it far exceeds my expectations in terms of both quantity and quality of what is being offered. While the history of this country is disturbing, shocking, upsetting in so many ways as we look at how we have harmed people of color and frankly anyone that we chose at different points in time to identify as “different” or “other”, I deeply believe that we will never be able to make the changes we want to see, the changes that our necessary on our journey to “love one another as we love ourselves” until we truly understand our history.
But in the midst of this, my understanding of the continued racism, anger, and hatred that we see has baffled me at so many levels. This course is helping me in that, as well. One of the videos we were given to watch was a Ted talk on the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. Taking the time to look at the base differences in values was very helpful, as well as why those differences in values exist in the first place.
I still find myself feeling very frustrated that we are so divided as a country that we hear different news, invest in different beliefs about what is real, and most of all, are given radically different “facts” that simply cannot be reconciled together. Of course, where you stand on the spectrum determines which facts you believe and which you decide are lies. And while I do think that there are always multiple ways of interpreting the same facts, there are things that actually happened and things that really didn’t; there are truths about what is happening and there are lies. And while my perspective tells me a certain group of news is lies, I know that others who disagree with me believe that what I am hearing is lies. I believe more and more strongly that the role of our leaders is to tell the truth, to not make up stories that confuse, alienate and divide us as a people, as a country. But my strong belief in this will not affect leaders, will not change the fact that “truth” and “lies” have become a currency in our country that is more valuable to those buying and selling them than human relationships and human lives. While I will do my part to promote honesty in reporting and in leadership, I am coming to the belief that it will take a conversion that only God can bring about to convince people, and perhaps to convince us as a nation, of the profound importance of truth telling, and the huge individual responsibility in being careful about what you choose to accept as “facts”.
In the meantime, I will continue to read, continue to learn, and continue to try to grow both in my own commitment to loving my neighbors, ALL my neighbors, as myself, and in my commitment to working to understand even those who are so radically different from myself.
Blessings and hope for a new year.