It hurts to say so, but I may not be an activist. On the side of love, I don’t stand or march or lie in the street or get arrested. Not that those who do shouldn’t.
I am in awe of the Bernal Heights occupy group that peacefully and with respect, look after the welfare of their neighbors. I, on the other hand, am more apt to be sitting and sipping a double soy latte, though, of course, still on the side of love. And in that spirit, I am “occupying” Starbucks with a diverse cast of coffee drinkers in the Fillmore Center. Here, I make it a point to connect with people who probably wouldn’t see things my way, even if they knew how I saw things.
On any topic, I am not as interested in convincing others of my view, no matter how misguided or wrong they may be, as I am interested in reflecting to them that they are people of consequence who matter.
The Unitarian Universalist principle of every person’s inherent worth and dignity supports me in this. But this is not to say that the homophobe on my right sipping his frappuccino has a good idea going for him. From my perspective, same sex marriage is a human right, and while our opinions are not the same, no bridge can be built between us as people of worth and dignity, unless I am willing to listen and talk to him in a way that bridges the divide.
I try to ask questions that make such a connection possible. People who hold ideas with which I disagree are worth engaging. They are, because if I can be present to them as an interested, accessible human being who is not judgmental, I may make an inroad into their inflexibility.
Sitting next to me is Danny. He is a religious fundamentalist hoping to convince me that we are living in the end times and if we have the right beliefs, we will see Jesus within the next 20 years or so. Or if not, and we die, we will be resurrected because if it can happen once it can happen twice.
Needless to say, I do not agree with Danny. The other morning he brought out notebooks and flipped through page after page of quotations from the Bible and his comments printed in large square letters. He searched for the one quote he was sure would convince me of the imminent reappearance of Jesus, the savior and Son of God. I said, “An interesting perspective and asked him, what his beliefs give him that makes his life better.” By shifting the focus from the beliefs themselves to why he chose to believe them, I hoped to engage him genuinely and not challenge or belittle what obviously matters to him. Eventually, if he asks me what I believe and I tell him, “As little as possible,” we could remain friends and continue to have conversations.
And it isn’t just with strangers that I have had to bridge divides. When I was with my girl friend, Corky, and we went to the movies, we would often disagree about the film. That is, she would disagree with me. My reaction was invariably anger, meaning hurt feelings. To me, her failure to validate my opinion meant I was not a person of consequence to her. Suddenly I looked at my disappointment and feelings and recognized them as familiar. So I didn’t yell, but breathed, sighed and said quietly, “Sorry, you are not at fault. It is never your fault. It will never be your fault.” She thought I was kidding. But that’s not her fault either. It never was her fault. Because time has passed and we are not together, I realize that fault was never an issue. It is always about remaining open to hearing other opinions and not needing another to validate me.
Perhaps, in some respect, all this sitting does make me an activist – actively seeking to connect from a position of inquiry rather than from an inflexible attachment to my own ideas, willing to listen and bend to better wisdom. Even, as is often the case, it’s not my own.