Rounding Out the Story

I don’t think it would be a controversial statement to say that no story has a single truth, that our perceptions about the facts of a story are guided by our prior knowledge and experiences and prejudices. Plato’s Levels of Intelligence paradigm puts Opinion a simple rung above Ignorance, and true Intelligence two whole rungs above Opinion, with Reason in between.

Watch a video of a group of young men chanting and laughing as an old man, a Native American elder, walks into their midst, playing his drum. Observe their red hats, their regalia that marks them supporters of a man who has been divisive in our country, sexist and racist and xenophobic. Watch still images of a smirking boy standing in what appears to be defiance blocking the old man’s path. I formed a pretty strong opinion in response.

Then I watched the events from the angle of a video shot by the four or five members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were taunting and mocking the young men before the incident occurred. It was a long and frustrating video, showing the story in a different light. I watched as the BHI men singled out a black student in the Covington group, insulting him personally, calling him names. I watched how his friends gathered around him, shielding him from the vitriol. I heard the things the BHI men were yelling at the boys. I watched the boys begin their school chants to try to drown out the insults. I cringed at the in-your-face nature of sports chants in an already heated situation. I watched a couple other videos of the moments of direct engagement between the boy (Nicholas Sandmann) and the man (Nathan Phillips).

And then I read this two-and-a-half page letter from Mr. Sandmann. His tone is measured and thoughtful, if a little defensive. He states that he does not understand Mr. Phillips’ intentions, and can’t explain what the older man’s intentions were. He is an articulate and careful writer.

Were the boys in the crowd mocking the old man and taunting him? Probably some were. It’s hard not to see that in the videos. Is it possible that some of what appeared at first to be taunting might instead be boys chanting their school chants? Probably. Very likely. Looked at through that lens, the energy of the group shifts a bit, seems less sinister.

Some of my take-aways:
1. MAGA hats are a really unfortunate apparel choice for young white men at a faith-based march. They are saying more than they intend, perhaps, and they set themselves up for the sort of negative snap judgements that the BHI men, and I, and most of America, seem to have been making.
2. I am really judgemental about white men in MAGA gear. Not only do I rush to judgement; in the midst of a larger array of facts, I still struggle to open my mind when there are MAGA hats in the picture.
3. Even video can tell a misconstrued story. As we were discussing it last night, before I saw the second video, I kept saying, “But I saw that video. It’s really clear what was happening. You can’t just throw out video evidence.” Still, it seems that the story told by the first video is different from the one told by the second video. In the long and rambling video of the BHI group, I heard no chants of “Build the wall.” I don’t doubt that some of Mr. Phillips’ group thought they heard that in the school chants, but I don’t think they said it.
4. Looking at the various videos, I think it is highly possible–likely, even–that both Mr. Phillips’ group and the Covington boys had two separate understandings of the event, that both Mr. Phillips’ account and Mr. Sandmann’s account are “true,” because they’re true to their experiences.
5. As harsh and demeaning as much of the BHI group’s taunting was, they had some things to say that I wish these boys could hear and learn from. They are privileged. Their privilege is built on centuries of white exploitation of black people and people of color, from enslavement of blacks and genocide of Native Americans in the beginnings, to the hoarding and consolidation of resources and the means of production, to outright discriminatory laws and systems, to lynchings, to redlining, to police brutality. I am afraid that this experience will wall off the possibility for these boys to do any deep reflecting on this subject.
6. This would be an excellent opportunity for some real, deep education. Instead of expelling the boys, I think the school should bring in outside educators to talk to about stereotypes and stereotyping–both their own stereotypes and the ones they have experienced from others (people like me). I would love to see the diocese invite Mr. Phillips to talk, create a listening session where he can hear the boys and they can hear him. Bring in an outside mediator, someone who can help them talk, help them listen. This is a perfect opportunity to help these young people learn to think critically and compassionately.
7. I find it really problematic that a boys school would bus a group of young men wearing MAGA hats to protest a Women’s March. I realize that they perhaps put it in the context of Marching in a Pro-Life March, and they’re tying it to their compassion for babies. Still, when it comes down to it, the visuals are of a large group of young religious patriarchs being groomed to take up the reins of the patriarchy marching in a march deliberately planned to coincide with a March for Women. It’s ugly. (I added this point after the original post.)
8. I think I am pretty media savvy. I’m not as savvy as I thought I was. I think perhaps none of us are.

Pillar of Salt

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Today you turn, you twist,
look back to the beginning of now,
throw your tears over your shoulder,
salt enough for any god’s pillar.

How does it weigh?
The balances and the boundaries,
the feather and the soul?
Can you say what you have learned?
What will you carry with you into the wilderness?
Which character will you play in the coming cycle?

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:

We’ve come to the end of the Fool’s journey. Tomorrow we face the World. The World Tree. The World Web. The World of Dreams. Here comes the future. Today, we looked back at the work of the past. Tomorrow we face the future, wind in our hair, sun on our faces. Are we right back where we began? Or do we set our own Fool’s feet upon a whole new road? We’ve traveled one circuit of the circle. We’ve made one round of the labyrinth. Now we carry the new mysteries and secrets into the coming cycle. How does that look to you?

Gratitude List:

  1. Race Against Racism today in Lancaster. Such good people, running in the rain. My young running buddy was a good companion–we actually walked it mostly.
  2. The Islamic Community Center, who invited my church to race with them. I felt so welcomed.
  3. The Spoken Word poets and storytellers. This is another incredible community of people that I am honored to be part of. This year they chose one of my poems as the ensemble poem. It gives me chills to hear my words in these powerful voices.
  4. Truth. That’s the theme of this year’s Spoken Word Play. I love all the different takes on the topic, how our ideas blend together.
  5. Friends who will stop and pick your flowers. A friend came by today, and when we didn’t hear her knocking, she picked herself a little bouquet of lilies of the valley. I felt so treasured.

May we walk in Beauty!

Islands

The distance between two bodies
may be a word and a word and a word.
The map of the distance¬†between them–
that’s a story sent out like a boat on waves.

We may indeed be islands, separate
in our separate skins, and lonely
as rocky hills jutting from the sea.
It’s words that span and sail between us.

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:
We’re nearing the end now. Some people call it Judgement, that final reckoning before the end of the game, the life, the story. Some call it Karma, or Prudence. Perhaps it’s Accountability. It’s the moment of the Last Look Back, the Assessment, the final Final before graduation. How does the Fool stack up? Can she see what she has learned? Find value in the work she has been doing?

Gratitude List:
1. Lily of the Valley. I can’t get enough of the scent. When Skunk Hollow isn’t filled with the smell of skunk, it’s filled with Lily of the Valley.
2. A good story to follow. Right now it’s Poldark, and it’s breaking my heart almost as much as Downton Abbey did. I love Demelza.
3. Song Sparrow
4. These boys. Last night as I was reading to Joss before bed, at the part where Ma Gasket stands up to Polybites,¬†he stopped me and said, “I like these books where the women are leading, too.” Well, there.
5. That tiny little light there at the way far end of the tunnel.

May we walk in Beauty!