At my grandfather’s shiva (the Jewish version of a wake), two of his friends told the story of the three of them walking to lunch in Manhattan. A panhandler asked my grandfather if he could spare any change for food. My grandfather’s response, they said, was to invite the man to lunch.
Papa died over thirty years ago and I still wonder about his thought process, about his decision not to ignore the man, and I’d dearly love to know what they talked about at lunch.
Like many, I have been struggling with how to understand the divisions that are plaguing our society. As difficult as it is for me to understand what led to the deaths of Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice (to, tragically, name a few), it is even more difficult for me to understand how some people can view this as reasonable. I’m reminded of the days after 9/11 when so many of us responded by trying to stay in dialogue, to learn about Islam, to check our assumptions about “the other.” Yet, here we are again. Or rather, still. And these racial disparities are much more deeply ingrained in our psyches and society than any misplaced associations between Muslims and terrorists.
As someone who professes that her life's work is about bridging divides, I am painfully aware that I spend most of my time in the bubble of white, upper-middle class, privilege. I revel in the diversity of my urban neighborhood yet most of the people I spend time with are similarly privileged. And, in case I had illusions to the contrary, I’ve taken enough versions of the Implicit Association Test
to know I’ve got my own unfair biases.
So what’s a person to do?
During this season of holy days for so many, I challenge you to find a way to follow my grandfather’s example. Find one person you don’t already know who is significantly different from you in some way -- socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation/identification, or political beliefs. Engage that one person in a meaningful conversation. Ask questions about his/her life and perspectives. Listen. Learn.
I’m not naïve enough to believe this is sufficient. But if we, who profess to be progressive, inclusive and committed to “bridging divides,” are unwilling to get to know “the other” how can we hold those we disagree with to a higher standard?