I was out of town on business last week, and was flipping through the channels when I came upon a Lone Ranger show from 1955. I smiled, remembering that I had watched a lot of LR shows in the late 50’s. There was 20 minutes left so I decided to watch. Other than the ‘hokie’ black and white set and the fake fighting, I was struck by something else. How gentle the Lone Ranger was and how respectful. There were other men, women, different ethnic groups, but it didn’t matter. He treated them with kindness and respect. Granted it was TV in the 1950’s, and shows like that had a clear hero, and a clear sense of right and wrong. Yet, it was a look back in time – a glimpse of a kinder, gentler time.

I have been reading about ‘inclusion’ over the past few months. I’ve noticed some shifts within me in the past few years. Perhaps it is my age, but I find that I am more sensitive to the amount of conflict I see. I win you lose, segregation in the broadest sense of the word, discrimination in the broadest sense of the word, prejudice, violence. While this is not a new dynamic in our world, there does seem to be more polarization – the reduced ability to discuss for the purpose to understand rather than argue my position. I wonder if our political environment is a reflection of our society, or is it the reverse? I don’t have an answer. What I believe I observe is that we have, and are experiencing, an ‘erosion’ of expectations. Maybe the truer fact is that I have/am experiencing an erosion of expectations.

There may come a day when sociologists will track the last 70 years and illustrate for us where we have advanced as a society, and where we have not. It is easy to spot the technology that has improved, but not as easy to discern the changes in how we relate and interrelate with one another.

What I believe has been happening for some time is that our “communities” have shifted. We are not as interdependent for our survival, but our closest communities still reflect a need for interconnectedness – emotional attachments. We are still members of towns and cities, and we are members of a country and of  the world community. But, I am talking about the ‘community’ of people that we do life with – family and closest friends that we see regularly, sharing holidays, birthdays, births, deaths, and the daily happenings of our lives. These are the people that we talk to once a week, or at least once per month about what is going on in our lives. I like to think of this as my ‘inner circle.’ There are other concentric circles representing people who are part of different communities (work, church, school, etc.) that you interact with, but less frequently. My guess is with each circle out from the inner circle the frequency of contact diminishes, until I get to the person, “I know you, but you are really not in any of my communities.

The ‘community’ that we do life with tends to be made up of people that we have common history or common interests. There is nothing nefarious about it, it just tends to be how we naturally congregate. I remember having a conversation with a man from Philadelphia who was part of a ‘shared community.’ They lived in close proximity to one another and all were welcome. They would pool their resources or trade services to insure everyone was taken care of. When I asked him what most disappointed him about how the community had evolved he said, “Regardless of the openness of the community, people tended to gather according to their “own kind”” (Asians, Afro-Americans, Caucasians, etc.). The group interacted and worked as they needed to for the community to work, but, even though they tried a number of things over several years to see if they could create a more integrated group, they could not sustain it.

What has emerged for me, so far, is that there are some ‘natural’ congregations that occur; there are a whole lot more that occur with the purpose to exclude. When does a gathering of a fraternal organization, or a meeting of a philanthropic organization, or any other women’s or men’s club become less about a ‘like-minded’ gathering of people and become something ugly and sinister? Perhaps when at the core the gathering is fueled by hate, or at least you have to lose while I win.

I remember when you could have a ‘discussion’ with someone you disagreed with about anything. You would discuss, try to understand their position, and see if there was any common ground. If not, we would agree to disagree. We would respect them and their right to their position . When did that ‘erode’ into hate? When did we lose the ability to debate something and instead have it end in a shouting or shoving match? Perhaps when it became more important for us to be right than it was to respect diverse opinions and still get something done. Perhaps when egos began to take a front seat, and the ‘voice’ of reason lost its voice.

While it may be important for you to answer the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ this happened, it is more important for me to answer, “Is this really how we want to live with one another?” “Is this what we want your children to see, want them to be?”

I was sharing some of these thoughts with a colleague of mine recently, saying that this issue of inclusion/exclusion seems so big that I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. She paused, as if to say, “I understand, but…” Then she shared with me the following poem. It was the perfect reminder – I don’t need to bite off more than is my piece, but to do my piece.

One Little Candle

It is better to light just one little candle,
Than to stumble in the dark!
Better far that you light just one little candle,
All you need’s a tiny spark!

If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free,
What a wonderful dawn of a new day we’ll see!
And, if everyone lit just one little candle,
What a bright world this would be!

Let’s all light one little candle,
Why stumble on in the dark?
When the day is dark an’ dreary,
And your way is hard to find,
Don’t let your heart be weary,
Just keep this thought in mind!

My guess is that I will continue to contemplate on this subject. I would love to hear your thoughts.

To a better you…