A Shared Understanding that We Need Shared Understanding

A Shared Understanding that We Need Shared Understanding

These last two days, I’ve been hosting, along with my colleague Shwanda Barnette, the Race, Equity and Leadership Team Training at the FLCU Orlando Training Center. Our responsibilities are modest: be hospitable, make sure our presenters/facilitators and our participants have what they need, and observe. Compared to being the presenter, this is a relatively low-stress role. In part, that’s because all of the participants and presenters are nice people, easy to work with. Mostly, it’s because my colleague Shwanda has done an excellent job preparing for these two days.

On Thursday morning, the presenters, Glenn Harris and Julie Nelson, walked the participants through an exercise called “Laying it on the Line.” Participants sorted themselves (literally, by walking around the room) on an imaginary line from “strongly disagree with” to “strongly agree with” a number of statements.

There was interesting diversity of opinion in response to most statements, even as there was a surprising commonality of understanding of the elements of the issues implied by each statement.

But on one statement, the diversity of opinion was dramatically reduced. The entire group expressed similar opinions, shared similar ideas.

That statement: “My city has a shared understanding of racial equity.”

There was a certain amount of embarrassed laughter as the entire group moved toward the “disagree” side of the room. Laughter, because the movement was en masse; the entire group suddenly found something they agreed about. Embarrassment, because none of those attending felt this truth was a good thing.

Look at the public opinion data. Look at the various factions in our political universe. Look at the physical confrontations on the news.

No, we do not have a shared understanding of what a truly equitable society would look like, when we talk about race. Or ethnicity. Or gender.

Which prompts the question: What, if anything, do we want to do about it?

Here, I think, there is extraordinary agreement about the goal most of us would like to achieve.

We want peace.

Black Lives Matter activists want peace. Most do not wish for a lifetime of protesting because another black male has died at the hands of law enforcement.

Police officers want peace. Most do not wish to step out of their patrol cars or walk or bike a neighborhood and be viewed as the enemy by the people they seek to serve.

More broadly, I don’t believe that most Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Green Party supporters or other third-party supporters or no-party voters like what we see. We don’t relish a political system that exhibits a level of political conflict just one step short (if that) of all out war. Disagreement, sure. Passionate disagreement, fine. Unbridled hatred? No, thank you.

There are all kinds of peace. There is the peace I experience sitting with a cup of coffee on a cabin porch in the mountains, listening to the wind in the leaves and the skitter and twitter of woodland creatures. In such a moment, I’m not worried about anything. I’m just at peace,

There is the peace of mutually assured destruction (MAD, for short) that has kept the United States from full military engagement with the Soviet Union/Russia and the People’s Republic of China. It is a tense thing (much more tense of late), a “hot peace” when it isn’t a cold war. But it is peace in the sense that we aren’t shooting at each other.

There also is the peace of oppression. If a powerful institution or individual or cultural or societal norm successfully imposes its will upon others, the society may not exhibit much overt conflict, but that doesn’t mean that the oppressed are enjoying the arrangement very much.

Some of us might be comfortable with the peace of oppression provided we were the oppressor (or someone the oppressor viewed favorably). As long as the oppression, like the threat of mutual destruction, is effective in holding off overt conflict, those who benefit might experience something that resembles the first kind of peace I mentioned. That it is built on implied (or actual) violence might be beyond our sight and understanding, and consequently might not disturb our peace.

What these last many months have made manifest is the implied or actual violence that currently is characteristic of our society. The peace, of whatever form, based on whatever combination of implied and overt power, is not holding. About this, too, I think we have a shared understanding.

Which presents us with a choice.

Will we work for peace, or not? And if we will, by what means will we seek to achieve it?

I hope we can have a shared understanding about the necessity of getting to work, and about how we ought to work.

Together. For the good of all.

For peace. For all.