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Differences don't have to divide us

There's a lot of tension in the air. News reports remind us that financial markets are tough, gas prices and food prices are up, people are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and jobs aren't easy to come by. The fact that there is a historic race for the White House only brings into acute focus all that there is to be “fixed.”

My experience is that when tension runs high, people start looking for relief wherever they can find it. Many people experience this relief in finding someone to blame, most frequently someone who has different belief systems, or who is of a different color or race.

Einstein once said that “A problem cannot be solved with the same mind that created it.” I suggest that by maintaining the status quo of division – poor or wealthy, black, white or brown, conservative, liberal or moderate, red states or blue states, for or against any issue under the sun – we are excluding ourselves from a solution. We are attempting to understand and solve what have become global concerns with the perspective of experience of one human life – our own.

I don't want that responsibility – do you?

In the 1990s, at an awards ceremony of the Urban League, the late Joe Martin gave a speech urging people to begin spending time with others of differing races, genders, religions, political beliefs and physical circumstances. I took him up on this challenge, and for nine months I listened and talked, and it became clear that we all had more in common than we had dividing us.

Bridging gaps, finding friends

In March of 2007, Mecklenburg Ministries partnered with Crossroads for Change and began an initiative called “Friday Friends,” a forum to encourage people to bridge these gaps. The last Friday of every month, members meet over lunch with people of different backgrounds to get “to know one another as people, not as categories.”

The big idea is that not only will we create relationships that can build social capital, but as individuals we can expand the boundaries of our own experience to learn to think with a more expansive – and inclusive – vantage. It is this kind of learning that wires our brains to create solutions that will be both dynamic and sustainable.

Mecklenburg Ministries is holding a Meet and Greet on Friday, for the next session of Friday Friends so that people can connect with a partner. The new participants will become a part of more than 500 people who have begun this journey of understanding, consciousness-raising, and solution-oriented behavior.

No one is immune to the bias of our own experience. But we become victims when we deny that our bias exists. It is a pretty good hint that there is bias going on if the person on the other side of the table looks like they or their choices are the source of all the problems.

In my recent experience as a congressional candidate, I have been tempted more than once by the dark siren call of “us and them.” This experience has led me to believe more than ever that a new kind of politics, a new kind of conversation, a new kind of thinking is required to create the kind of world we all want to live in.

Friday Friends (www.meckmin.org) is one solution. I urge everyone to heed Joe Martin's original revelry and take advantage of it.

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