Address at the Tri-City Interfaith Council Thanksgiving Service Copyright © 2022 by Joy T. Barnitz
The poet Audre Lorde wrote:
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford biologist, writes that:
“Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language, group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture. We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency. … But crucially, there is room for optimism … we all carry many Us/Them divisions in our heads. A Them in one case can be an Us in another, and it can only take an instant for identity to flip. ….”
I find it pretty depressing that we are hormonally wired to distinguish Us from Them; and that, as Sapolsky further points out, we readily forgive our fellow in-group members for their transgressions and interpret their “wrongs” situationally, highlighting extenuating circumstances to explain their behavior. However, when a THEM does something “wrong”, … well, “that’s the way They are.” We need to be skeptical of our instincts and biases; lest we become foolish
… and gullible.
I find comfort in the fact that humans are flexible with respect to their identities. We create and change our identity factors quickly, depending on the circumstances. We easily convert “Them” to “Us” depending on the question asked. …. A question as simple as “Do you like broccoli?” can serve to split a group of people into YES –- (maybe) – -and NO!!! subgroups. … For the record, I am in the ‘maybe’ group on broccoli.
Dwelling on the differences between us can take a tremendous toll on our individual … and on our collective health; … if “indulged in regularly, (it) ends up warming the soul,” robbing us of empathy for those with whom we disagree. …. It ‘hardens our hearts.’ These differences may divide family members, as some find themselves suddenly in a group singled out as “different” … as “other.” The cumulative effect is ‘compassion fatigue,’ … ‘burn-out’
… We are grieving. … We are heartbroken. … We need a ‘change of heart.’
Religiously motivated discrimination, … “like the other social sins of racism, sexism, classism, judging people by what their bodies look like or how those bodies move or express themselves, and so on, has become so normalized that people often don’t even (notice) it.” Our faith traditions point the way to being “better than we are, and part of that process is opening our hearts. ... a kind of heart surgery. It is painful (and) we come out of the procedure with scars, but
ideally, we come out healthier.
In an opinion essay written just after the 2016 election, Derek Black attributed his renunciation of white nationalism to the “many talks with devoted and diverse people … who chose to invite (him) into … conversations rather than ostracize (him).” Black wrote:
“People have approached me looking for a way to change the minds of (white nationalists), but I can’t offer any magic technique. That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions, and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides. … the conversations that led me to change my views started because I couldn’t understand why anyone would fear me. I thought I was only doing what was right and defending those I loved.”
No “magic technique,” just the “honest listening on both sides” that happens only person-to-person, between individuals and in small groups. These conversations gave Black the courage to renounce white nationalism; … and in doing so, he lost his family and the community that formed him. It was not an easy choice to leave “those (he) loved.” He needed to know he had a new community which welcomed him, … one where he belonged.
Scientists have found that “expressing gratitude actually can rewire the brain, making us more resilient and less prone to depression.” I find hope in that! …. And I find hope in the kinds of conversations that take place with community members I meet through TCIC, … healing conversations where people find connection and identify ways of working together to build a strong, resilient community.
The image projected on the slide is a “Heart of Peace” labyrinth, a variation on the classic labyrinth patterns whose spirals symbolize growth and evolution. Let’s commit to walking a path of peace together to build a compassionate, hope-filled
community, one where we find out what connects us, and one where we revel in our differences. …. A community where our spirits are fed by belonging … which is the most vital of foods.
May it be so.