A Conversation for 2018
It’s 2018, and America — we need to talk. I know, I know, there has been far too much talking, tweeting, ranting, and raging this past year. Words are flying everywhere, criss-crossing our awareness like the maniacal flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That isn’t what I’m envisioning.
I mean we need to have a conversation, to communicate. Remember? The part where your lips stop moving and then the other person speaks and you listen to them? Where you aren’t just trying to prove your point, but you are actually vaguely curious about what the other person might have to say?
Yeah. I barely remember it either. That’s why we’re in such a mess.
Conversation seems like a quaint idea, something from a bygone era when we had more time, an era before air conditioning when we sat on our front porches after supper to catch an evening breeze and shoot the breeze with our neighbors. A time when we were a little more interdependent, before we all began carrying around a world of information and opinion in our pockets and no longer needed to actually connect with others.
Still longer ago, in the mid-fourteenth century, the word conversation meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and even more broadly, “a manner of conducting oneself in the world.” I like that. The Latin root meaning “to live with, keep company with” literally means “turn about with,” and an even older language root means “to turn, to bend.”
With this understanding, conversation seems like a dance — the dance of living together, turning and bending to accommodate others, sometimes comfortably, sometimes less comfortably, but still, living life together.
These days conversation isn’t a dance, it’s a battle. You can’t really even call it conversation. It’s just a torrent of words, evil monkeys descending from dark skies, stomping on us, tearing us limb from limb and leaving us lying flattened, like Dorothy’s unfortunate scarecrow.
Our so-called “national conversation” is used to divide and conquer, not to find common ground. There’s no gentle bending or turning involved. It’s wrenching and even fatal for people living in poverty, without healthcare, or in cities where police brutality is the norm. My God, our very planet is at stake but if you mention climate change you’re accused of politicizing tragedies like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.
Make no mistake — there is evil afoot in America. The man-child currently in the White House is the most egregious example, of course. He absolutely glories in causing pain and division, using words as weapons and firing off twitter tirades like some twisted middle-schooler whose parents are secretly worried he might get his hands on a gun.
He is a sick, sick human, and most of us know that by now.
That does not mean that the rest of us have to live in his madness for another year. We have a responsibility to remember a time when America was a lot greater. To the extent that we safely can, we (and I’m talking to myself here) must learn to ignore the invective spewing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s leave him ranting in the kitchen while we adults head to the front porch to have a conversation about values and meaning and truth.
I wish you many edifying conversations in 2018!