I find myself living in the place between weeping and wonder these days.
This season of political debates and campaigns has been disheartening. The ugliness that has been displayed and worse, applauded by many is heartbreaking. I find myself watching in open mouthed dismay. I think I was angry once, but the anger has given way to deep sadness. Watching would-be world leaders say cruel and hateful comments and then hearing them defended by people is crushing.
On February 29th the KKK held a rally in Anaheim, CA. As I watched the news in shock and horror I began to get text messages from young black people that I love asking me “why?”, “how?” As tears rolled down my cheeks I could only respond with, “I’m sorry.” What else can I say?
I was brought into a conversation with an aggressive and unkind woman on the sidewalk in front of the center one day. This woman was complaining to me about the volume of our music. She had already worked her way through two staff members before she got to me. The first person she spoke to lowered the music volume, but that didn’t seem to satisfy her. As I spoke with this lady I was having a hard time understanding exactly what her problem was because by now the music from the burrito shop next door was louder. After about 15 minutes of trying to unpack the issue, she said, “a youth center like this is ok in the Bayview, but it doesn’t belong in the Sunset.” It took me a few seconds to realize what had just happened. When I told her that I was no longer going to engage in a racist conversation she looked surprised asd offended. As she drove away in her Volvo with a DIVERSITY bumper sticker, I stood there while kids asked me why she cared what neighborhood they were in, all I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
The weeping has become my companion. It’s like a blanket that I find myself wrapped up in. I find the despair over the issues that are still front and center in our society to be overwhelming at times. Daily I look into faces of stressed out youth and families that are being run over by the demands of systems they cannot possibly meet. These systems are meant to build bridges of safety for vulnerable people, but often create barriers making it too difficult to move forward.
We tell kids to be kind all the time. Watch Bambi and you’ll see that even Thumper knows, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
We want people to be kind to us. We like seeing kindness in action. We applaud acts of kindness from all over the world, particularly when it shows up in unexpected places. We crave kindness and yet lately I’ve been wondering where all the kindness has gone. Why is it that on TV, news, social media, while driving, even walking down the street it often feels unkind? This makes me wonder what kind of hope we have of making a difference in the lives of young people that are so hurt and traumatized already. When adults, even the candidates for the highest office in our land aren’t kind, how can we expect kindness from our youth?
This week is Spring Break in San Francisco. We have youth at the center all day for our Digital Arts Camp. On Monday after we played a game, we had a conversation and made agreements for how we would treat each other this week. I expected a bit of moaning and groaning, but instead there was energy and activity. The group worked in teams and chose the following agreements:
1. Participate 2. Nonjudgmental Approach – we can disagree with another person’s point of view without putting that person down.
3. Have a Good Time – it’s okay to have a good time. Creating a safe space is about coming together as a community, being mutually supportive, and enjoying one another’s qualities.
4. Agree to come each day and be punctual.
5. Speak for yourself, not on behalf of others.
6. Respect – give undivided attention to the person who has the floor (permission to speak.)
7. Respectful Listening – includes the expectation that the group will listen with attention to someone who is sharing and that only one person talks at a time.
8. No Put Downs.
9. Sensitivity to Diversity – we will remember that people in the group may differ in cultural background, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity or gender expression and will be careful about making insensitive or careless remarks.
10. Say Ouch – if anything is said or done in the group that makes me feel uncomfortable or attacked I can say “ouch” to let the group know I am uncomfortable. I will try and explain why if I can.
11. Watch Out for Bad Vibes – be careful and self-aware around how you are feeling and treating others.
I listened to this group of teenagers with juvenile convictions and probation officers share the reasons they chose these 11 agreements and all I could do is wonder. Can the adults in positions of leadership be held to the same agreements? What if these agreements had to be kept during debates? Are we, as adults, really modeling kindness with our words and deeds?
I find myself living in the space between weeping and wonder. I weep for the heartache and injustice that is ripping at the seams of communities and individuals even in 2016 and I wonder at the resiliency of youth that despite many obstacles and hardships choose to make 11 agreements based on kindness and respect of self and others.