Labeling is for jars

“Why does he think that way? How can he really believe that?” Overhearing these questions at a table next to me, I wondered at the answer, which I was unable to hear. What I came away with after leaving the restaurant was that we all have our own perspectives, developed over time by parents, experiences, exposure to peer groups and other affiliations.

Sometimes our perspectives rub up against the perspectives of another, and we disagree, or in the case of extreme circumstances, these differences between nations can end in war. Our current global situation is unstable, and the relationships between nations, fragile. Students of history can recognize that we are in the midst of a massive “sea change” that is occurring. Involving economics, competition for resources, technology and the power it enables, as well as the  survival of the human species. Additionally, we often are challenged to know the “truth” of what is actually occurring.

In Bob Dylan’s  classic song, “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” he asks, “What did you hear my blue-eyed son?” And part of the response was, “The sound of a thunder that roared out a warning.”

“Let them eat cake,” a remnant from the French revolution, is once again referencing the perceptions many have of the wealthiest 1 percent in this nation. The concept of noblesse oblige, (the obligation of those of high rank or wealth to assist those who have less), seems to have disappeared for the most part. There are exceptions of course, churches and other benevolent organizations do persist, even amidst great challenges. But on the greater world stage, we, as individuals have few tools to affect these global issues and promote life sustaining policies world-wide.

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We do, however, have local voices and strength. We do have our community — our ability to conduct our lives in a manner that takes into consideration all needs — and do so in a way that acknowledges and builds upon what we have in common.

We, of course have our different perspectives — those of business owners, government workers, college employees, ranchers, timber workers, and the professional community. You may subscribe to American Rifleman, Farm and Ranch Living, Permaculture, or Better Homes and Gardens. You may drive a Dodge Ram, a Subaru or a VW van.

Labels are helpful for my spice cabinet, so that I don’t mistake cinnamon for chili powder. Anything that rests in a container can usually be clarified by a label. When we apply these to humans, however, we can get into trouble. Because often the label only succeeds in dividing and creating distance between us. They allow us to throw a category at another, so we can put them on another shelf that is not ours.

To really know another we need to go beyond the labels, whether political, religious, ethnic, or any other category that only results in divisiveness. When it comes to developing “real community” categories don’t matter. What does matter is that we all have a “seat at the table.” We all have a stake in our local outcomes.

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And when we disagree, it is often about the specifics of a particular project or concept — such as whether to grow commercial cannabis or not, to saw or save certain trees, or how to deal with abandoned cars. When we meet an impasse we have the option of moving to a higher level of generality where we can agree, or looking to find those other areas of consensus.

Some examples of agreement may include a living income and economic security for all. From that point of agreement we can then look at the steps needed to achieve that with an attitude of open-mindedness and the sense that we are all “on the same team.” The more we can create a feeling of inclusion and keeping in mind the needs of all in our communities, the more secure, safe, and resilient we will be as we go forward into a time of challenge and uncertainty.

The warning of Bob Dylan’s song is not a distant thought. Looking, listening and feeling, we can sense it. Rather than dismissing or denying the changes that are coming, rather than poorly reacting when we are in emergency mode, we can be proactive.

When the going gets tough we can get either dig in to our positions or open our arms to one another. We can be a community of inclusion — allowing our individual egos to become less dominant — so that we see the larger picture. We can proactively plan for that time when we will need to stand together — younger, older, religious or not, local native or transfer from elsewhere.

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It’s not only our community leaders’ responsibility to promote this inclusion, but in our local areas we can each “reach across the aisle,” we can sit down and have a beverage with one another, we can wave as we pass each other in the morning. And building upon the attributes of a small community we can develop resilience, sustainability and security for all. This is my wish for the start of this decade.