By Frank Blechman
Unlike many of my columns for this blog, which are long, rambling, have unexpected conclusions, and challenge belief, this column is short, true, and clear.
For many years, I have supported community organizing as the critical tool for responsive politics. In 2003, I attended a statewide gathering of representatives from organizations affiliated with the Virginia Organizing Project (now renamed more simply, “Virginia Organizing”). Folks came from NOVA, far Southwest, the Southside, and Tidewater, to share stories about what they were doing and what they had learned. I mingled, listened, and applauded their triumphs.
In one workshop, a group from Alexandria explained how they were working with the city to control rats. Participants from far Southwest Virginia were puzzled. They asked, “Why in the world do you need to work with the city to control rats? Why don’t you just shoot them?”
“Well,” the Alexandrians tried to explain, “we can’t do that.”
“Of course you can,” replied the Southwesterners, “we do it all the time.”
I didn’t try to step in to explain, or facilitate. The cultural and experiential difference was too big to try to bridge in the middle of a one-day get-together.
The cultural and experiential difference was too big to try to bridge in the middle of a one-day get-together. . . . Both were Virginians. But they lived in different worlds.
“Hold that thought,” was about all I could say to help them move on. Both groups were about the same thing, basically. Both spoke apparently the same language. Both were Virginians. But they lived in different worlds. They did not need to understand each other to appreciate the effort each was making, or to celebrate each other’s successes. Folks can support each other even if they disagree, even if they don’t understand why somebody else would do a certain thing, or do it a certain way.
We may think we are smarter than God. We may wish for the chance to tell her about all the mistakes she made in creating the world. But we would be better advised to respect others, rather than tell them what wonderful ideas we have for them.