Monday, June 22, 2020

Balanced Scales

How do we balance the scales in our lives?

I've struggled with this question on and off, but I know recent events have encouraged me to bring it out so I can turn it around so it catches the light in different ways.  I am aware that these feelings and questions are not unique to me, nor am I any more special than any other person.  It just so happens I am willing to share some things I am thinking via a blog on a regular basis.  Others could certainly do the same if they wished.  If some of the things I share here help someone else, entertain another person and perhaps encourage yet another to learn something new - wonderful.  If they don't?  Well, at least I got to have that chance to view my thoughts and examine them for a while. 

Good enough.

How do we recognize problems that exist without allowing them to overwhelm us?  If we take a moment away are we guilty of ignoring something that we should be acting upon?

A couple of people I know shared this very interesting and moving 'short film' by Canadian Liv McNeil.  If you have the internet to do so, take a moment to view it.

Even an introvert, such as myself, recognizes that we are social creatures.  The physical distancing we should be following to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has, in fact, led to a certain level of social distancing as well.  The strain is showing and many are becoming overwhelmed.

Sometimes the reaction seems to be that we should rebel or completely turn off the switch when it comes to concern for the pandemic.  It isn't hard to understand where this is coming from.  But, ignoring the threat and pretending a problem doesn't exist won't make it go away and it will only hurt more people.

You're tired.  I'm tired.  We're feeling overwhelmed.  What can we do to help each other (and ourselves) without ignoring this virus?  I am seeking that balance in my own life and I hope you are as well.  For us, we will remain cautious and do the things in our power to not spread the virus.  We will wear masks and we will limit our physical contact with others.  But, we are also working to improve our social contact while still maintaining some physical distance.  We'll just keep learning - it's what we can do.

What will it take for you and I to be able to be aware and empathetic to someone else's fear and pain while still realizing our own joy, peace and happiness?

I have long admired Yo-Yo Ma as a musician and I have come to admire him even more over time as a good person with a kind heart and generous soul.  I have also recognized Rhiannon Giddens' talent in the past, but her genre of music is not one I often listen to, so I am less familiar with her.  These two talented people put together a powerful piece that I enjoyed and I thought I would share it here.

It is very difficult to hear the lyrics of this tune and not hear the pain in them.  I am hopeful that I can find a way to acknowledge the pain, fear, anger and suffering of black people referenced here while still recognizing and feeling gratitude for the good things in my own life.  It is tempting to put on the "sackcloth and ashes" to show public remorse and there is also a fear that my own happiness would be a betrayal of their pain.

So again, I am looking for a balance in my life.  It is not right, and it has never been right, for people of color to be systematically mistreated and abused.  But, I actually think I might be capable of doing what I can to speak out for those who are struggling without disowning the good things in my own life.  This isn't supposed to be about making everyone miserable.  It's about getting rid of a weight that so many people carry around with them that is tied to the color of their skin.

Where is the balance between extending ourselves to achieve something great that could help others who need it and preserving enough of ourselves so that we can also live well?

Our farm has been a great training ground - if you can call it that - for working on the balance between pushing hard to achieve and keeping our own mental and physical well-being in mind while we work.

The answer - at least to us - is still unknown, because it seems to shift and morph with every new day.  If you have followed our blog for some time, you know we have been working hard to find the balance between dedication to excellence and preservation of our own physical and mental well-being.

But, let me say this.  I still believe we are ALL better than what we have shown thus far.  We let ourselves 'off the hook' too easily too often.  We even do a poor job of allowing ourselves to enjoy the things that are supposed to bring us that coveted balance.  And so, I do what I hope I will always do - I will keep trying to do better.

When will we acknowledge when things aren't right so we can try to find useful solutions that can move us forward to something better?

I recognize that I can get impatient when people spend lots time outlining a problem and trying to convince me that there is a problem.  Perhaps that is because I can often see that there is an issue that needs addressing and don't want to spend time on the 'convincing us there is a problem' stage.  I want to get to the 'fixing it' part.

But, then again, part of the fixing it just might be listening to those who are being affected by the issue.  And perhaps another part is actually taking the time to have a conversation.  Does that solve everything?  Of course not.  But it is part of the process.

This brings me to one more video.  Emmanuel Acho has been creating a series titled "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man."  I appreciate the gift he is giving by attempting to have conversations with/for white people that address questions and issues that we might not otherwise consider.

The video above was his first installment.  The two that follow include face to face discussions with white people, making it more of a dialog.  I am certain Mr. Acho does not speak for every black man or woman, just as I do not speak for every white man or woman.  But, he is right about one thing for sure - if we take the time to have an honest conversation with someone we are uncomfortable with, we just might find that the discomfort is misplaced and that we can locate common ground for understanding.

As I viewed these conversations, I did not find that I was uncomfortable with the content of the discussion at all.  If anything, most of it made perfect sense and was generally in alignment with my own beliefs.  On the other hand, these videos, the Rhiannon/Yo-Yo musical composition and all of the Black Lives Matter protests have made me uncomfortable for a different reason.

The Man Standing on the Corner
I can think of dozens of times that I found myself on a street corner or parking lot or outside a shop just standing around waiting for a ride or for a friend to meet me.   I have waited in a car parked on the street and put my head back to close my eyes multiple times.  I have placed myself in mall food courts in strange cities so I can do work while my lovely bride attended a conference for her profession.  I've spent hours in hotel lobbies doing the same thing.  Students, staff and faculty of Wartburg College know that I sometimes will work in the coffee shop, library or other locations on campus.

I admit that I have gotten odd, questioning looks.  I do tend to be a bit scruffy looking and my red baseball cap isn't always in pristine condition.  I have a tendency to wear hoodies, but usually with the hood down.  My clothing is typically clean, but sometimes a bit worn.  I have been known to talk to myself as I think something out and I will occasionally stop typing or writing and stare at nothing - though some who do not know me might not realize I am not seeing whatever it is that I appear to be looking at.

I have only been approached by police or security five or six times.  And in all but one of those instances, I was not terribly worried about the outcome.  In the lone exception, I was still in high school, so we'll include that as a 'strike' against me.  In several of those instances, I was struck by the mildly confrontational tone the police or security person took as they initiated contact.

What would have happened if I was black skinned?  Or perhaps a Latino?  Would someone call the police because I was pacing back and forth for ten minutes in front of a Seven Eleven as I waited for a ride?  Would that mildly confrontational tone the police officer had remain mild or would it push the boundaries of civility?

Better yet - how about the times I have stood outside, on a cold evening, after the sun has gone down, by myself, pacing back and forth, mumbling, humming or whistling - while I wait for the last person to come pick up their turkey?  I have had the police stop by to chat a couple of times because they are curious about what I am doing at our various drop-offs.  If my skin were black, would it be more than a 'chat?'

Sadly, the answer is this.

If I were black, I would probably work hard to NOT be left waiting on various street corners for rides.  I would consider hiring a white worker to stand with me by the truck during produce distributions.  There would be fewer choices for pick up locations and times because I would not want to be stuck waiting for customers under many of those conditions.   I would think twice about going and sitting to do work in various public spaces for fear that someone will think that I look threatening and then do something about it.

I have gotten away with being free to do these things this way for most of my life.

And I want people of color to be able to do the same.


  1. Thank you so much for posting these videos. I plan to play the uncomfortable conversations video tonight to start after dinner conversations. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary to start dialogue? Yes.

    1. You are welcome. I've found that I have grown the most at times in my life where I was at least a little bit uncomfortable. Thank you for being willing to have the conversations/dialogue.


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