I started this blog in January as a means to tell stories, share poems, and to recommend all manner of good things for your consideration. Long-term, I hope that it can be a vehicle for thinking about the many and varied things we love and care about, while making room for the fact that we may not all agree on what is worthy of our time and attention. You can see more of my original idea here in the post on why I named the blog What Work Is.
I started the blog before Covid-19 had worked its way around the world. The virus takes advantage of our interconnectedness, our love for being together. I started the blog before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, before we were thrust again into a confrontation with the fact that in spite of our interconnectedness and love for being together, we do not yet know how to live together without hurting one another.
I say we because, while many of us have learned the art of neighbor-love, “We the People” are not only individuals but also a part of the whole nation (the world really, but the United States and its problems is already too big a thing for my mind to grasp). I started the blog before these enormous and weighty events, but centuries after the conditions were established by which these specific events would be made possible. In February of 2020, my family was in Grand Rapids, MI attending a performance of Hamilton. It was a packed house. The historical, political, cultural and artistic implications of the performance speak both to the limits we imposed on the idea that “All men are created equal,” and also to the burgeoning global connections which would rapidly expand over the subsequent 240 or so years. Within a few short weeks of that performance we have been forced to reckon with what we set in motion. Incidentally, I can’t imagine sitting in a packed room at this point.
I struggle with the fact that there is so much that I do not know. The more I study, the more I realize that my ideas came from somewhere outside myself. This is disconcerting because the origins of these ideas and principles are often at odds with my own notion of them. I find that I both agree and disagree with elements of my own ideology and am forced to reconsider and clarify what I think and why I think it. There is a deep complexity to these issues that is not made clearer by slogans or memes or tweets. However, if you do not participate in social media, you are more than likely to think/say something that is good but has been coopted by some group or another with which you disagree or even despise.
As an example, let’s look at two “slogans” which are now much in use: Black lives matter & All lives matter. As sentences, I agree wholeheartedly with both and would feel perfectly justified saying either to anyone I come in contact with. The complexity of these sentences is that they are not simply sentences.
“Black lives matter” is a sentence, a movement, and an organization. Black lives matter is a sentence, a movement, and an organization because the sentence “all lives matter” has not been fully embraced, to the specific detriment of Black lives in the United States. The knowledge that people reject the sentence and its meaning is repugnant to me as is the fact that so many of us are willing to overlook the horrific and chronic stories of our Black neighbors/citizens. However, things get murkier when an organization with the same name enters the picture. Can I be for the sentence and the movement without wholeheartedly supporting the organization? Does the organization stand for the same things as the movement? Mostly? Movements aren’t monolithic. It’s complicated.
“All lives matter” on the other hand is a sentence that has been coopted by a more nebulous and shadowy group who seemingly wish to diminish the notion that Black lives matter. My parents, who do not use any form of social media and have a very limited notion of coopted slogans, would for sure say that all lives matter and do so thinking of Black Americans who need support of their fellow citizens. I had to let them know not to say this sentence, or at least to say it with the knowledge that they may need to clarify what they mean. There is no specific “All Lives Matter” organization (that I know of and I’m not going to Google it today) to point to (with a website and and about page) which makes it more difficult to understand what I’m objecting to. White nationalism is certainly a part of this counter-movement and I can object to that, but there is another more complex group which will take some time to consider. What do they mean? I believe some of them mean, “I have no job” or “My son overdosed on heroin” or “There is no hope for us.” These people aren’t monolithic either.
I haven’t posted in a while due to the fact that I wasn’t sure how to say what I mean to say. I deleted Facebook in 2019 and started this blog for a number of reasons, but primarily because I don’t think such “platforms” are right for my mind. The pace of information is far greater than I can absorb and the tenor of the interactions is generally not like the tenor of interactions that I have with the same people in person. I want to think before I say something, even if others expect an immediate response. Certain things I’ve settled long ago and could say them on a moment’s notice (i.e. racism is evil), but other things are complex and/or new (see the two slogans above or what the science is telling us about the best responses to Covid-19) and require careful consideration.
I won’t be able to say all that I want to say in this post or even on my own. I’ll need this blog and my family and classroom and faculty meetings and friendships and community involvement and voting and engaging with people who disagree with me and so on and so forth. We’ll keep at it. Sometimes people require harsh rebuke (and a willingness to be rebuked). Sometimes situations require confrontation. We need careful thought to understand such times. I do know this, the world is big enough for the stories and suffering of all of the people and peoples in it. Your story and suffering do not negate mine and mine does not negate yours. When you speak, I would like to be quiet enough to hear and openhearted enough to realize that our hurts could unite us if we humbled ourselves enough to let them.