I was born to a politician for a father and grew up in a country defined by revolution and resistance; I’ve had a lot of political discussions in my 28 years. Some have left me fuming with rage, and others have brought me to a place of profound sadness, but a recent conversation with my neighbor, from six feet apart, has left me with a unique feeling.
After spending an hour and a half touching all the hot-button political topics, he gifted me one squash, five Hungarian peppers, and seven lemon cucumbers.
This is encouraging. Not because I’ll start intense conversations about Black Lives Matter, the value of life (pro-life vs. pro-choice), guns, presidents, pedophilic rich white men, the infiltration of communism into well-meaning movements like Black Lives Matter, and capitalism with every 60+ Christian white man I meet with the hope that they’ll gift me food from their garden.
My interaction with Neighbor gives me hope because we disagreed and experienced discomfort, but approached the conversation from a place of Love. Neighbor didn’t spout overtly racist ideology. He criticized policing and expressed upset over how militarized America has become, but believes abolition (of police and prisons) is ludicrous. Neighbor held on to beliefs about Planned Parenthood and how they’re killing so many Black babies — shouldn’t I be focusing more of my energy on that?
I’ve surrounded myself with thought that mirrors my beliefs because theorizing about policing is enraging and often feels unproductive when Black people are being murdered simply for existing.
Clearly, the discourse wasn’t peaches and cream. In some ways, it brought me back to college, where I often conversed and even theorized with others who were of diverse leanings. In recent times, I’ve surrounded myself with thought that mirrors my beliefs because theorizing about policing is enraging and often feels unproductive when Black people are being murdered simply for existing. No, I don’t want to hear your pro-life perspective when children are in cages! How could you possibly be more upset about burning buildings than state-sanctioned murder?
So, why exactly am I encouraged?
In his pocket-sized book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder teaches us how to ward oppressive government off. Lesson №12 asks that we make eye contact and small talk.
Neighbor and I did both — he lifted the privacy screen between our apartments, and we looked into each other’s eyes as we spoke. At first, the conversation was small: watch out for the sun, the UV index is high today; water your plants early; my garden is looking kind of sad. Then, things got deeper, and we did what’s taboo, we edged closer to the more intense and often divisive conversations.
However, as things steamed, I reminded Neighbor not to cut me off. He was respectful. When I got the urge to interrupt him, I took a breath and allowed him to finish. If I felt compelled to jump in the middle of a thought he was having, I took a mental note, but continued to listen actively. Once he finished his thought, I expressed mine. This went on for an hour and a half, with us both desiring to learn from each other.
Once we realized the sun was heating up, we decided to pause on the conversation. Things went back to niceties — small-talk. Once he released the privacy screen, I started watering my plants. A couple of minutes later, I heard him say, Flose, do you like cucumbers?
What went right in my conversation with Neighbor.
After I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is have a glass of water. Then I head outside to water my plants and meditate. Sometimes my spiritual work is long and trying, but other times it’s calm. When Neighbor spotted me, I had just finished practicing mindfulness. My spirit was fresh and at peak Love and Connectedness to I AM. Neighbor seems to operate from a place of Love as well. Neither of us came to the wall that separates our homes with previously downloaded feelings; we just were.
Because we didn’t have a desire to proselytize, we asked questions out of curiosity. For example, when I made a point about the second amendment no longer being viable, he asked why I believe it was created. I told him the second amendment was formed during a time when the white men who wrote it feared British rule; he said it was created to help Americans protect themselves from domestic abuse. It seems we’re not the only two debating the context around the second amendment. When he made a comment about understanding Black Lives Matter protests but being worried about property destruction, I asked why he was more concerned about that than the killing of actual human beings. Neighbor expressed that he identifies with the fundamental need for such a movement, but gave me examples of why he dislikes property destruction. Asking questions of curiosity, for us, created understanding, even when we continued to disagree.
Conversations like these are important.
The America I exist in communicates with me through dichotomies: An older white conservative man like Neighbor doesn’t value my life, and his world likely tells him that a Black liberal-leaning woman like me doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. So, rather than creating community, two people who look like us might find themselves building more walls. But our interaction shows me that it’s possible to build bridges between our borders.
Ultimately, it is my hope that such bridges will allow us to see each other’s humanity and to demand a country where we both have the right to self-actualize with full protection of the law.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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Photo courtesy of writer’s husband, Jesse LaPierre.