What is the lens through which we see the world? For most of our time on this planet, it has been through our first-hand experience, tinted and tilted by the stories our parents, our religion, our
culture handed down. Then came the newspaper and then came the 6 o’clock news and then came the 24-hour news stations and then came Facebook/ social media and the like. What the news chooses to show and how it chooses to spin it radically forms or alters our perspective on things, mostly in unconscious ways.
So in these marvelous three days in Oklahoma, I’m experiencing the cognitive dissonance of the way I’ve assumed that this is one of the most conservative states in the country, born out by the voting record, but meeting some of the most politically aware, awake and active folks I’ve met in a while (largely centered around the teacher’s strike), personable, fun, smart and charming people, geographically aware of the world (from a game we played) and able to open the door of thinking to consider some of the perspective about children, justice and healthy community I’m offering. By meeting on the common ground of caring for children and sharing our love for music, we all can put aside our assumptions fed to us by the divisive red-blue media circus and suspend all judgment except for MLK’s wise suggestion—content of our character. And from my point of view, that bar is set high and we’re all flying over it.
On the TV over the bar, I noticed an ad featuring a politician who supported Clinton, Obama and others, with the big warning BAD FOR OKLAHOMA!! That finger pushing the fear button that stops thinking, divides us into right or wrong, keeps us from considering the character of that person and having an intelligent discussion about the real issues at stake. And though I do believe that this strategy is more self-servingly exploited by the Far Right, it happens from the other side of the political spectrum as well. What if we started talking about actual issues separate from the label of Red and Blue? Looked at actual people’s characters separate from making sure our guy wins at all costs? (Kavanaugh) Had a cultural exchange program between rural and urban folks, middle of the country and coastal folks, rich and poor folks, gay and straight folks, black and white folks, etc? So we finally can drop the adjective and just get down to “folks?”
I feel some of my mission is to tell the real news about the people I meet from Iran, from Ghana, from Colombia, places that the news and politicians have painted with their own brush and we consumers start to accept a negative image without knowing the real story. It’s to our shame that I feel the need to do the same with the folks back home, telling them the pleasure of getting to know the folks from Oklahoma as if it were a surprise. And perhaps the folks here are telling stories about the guy from San Francisco who seemed to be okay. Imagine that!
This time here has been an affirmative model for me of how we can turn around divisiveness. I came into it open and will leave yet more open. I was able to be wholly myself and say the things I always say because I started from the assumption that we all cared to be better than we’ve been (always including me) and put it in the context of how good teaching and good music and good humor and good fellow feeling and deep respect can help us do that. Thank you to each and every one of the 30 marvelous people in Oklahoma I’ve had the pleasure to meet and engage with and hope we can all continue to meet on the common ground of Woody Guthrie’s vision, a land that is yours and mine, but most importantly, OUR land, depending on us to maintain it, sustain it and make it a place of human health, happiness and justice. Let’s keep working—together!