In the Company of Friends (and strangers)

We went away for the weekend with Laurel's buddies and their families. Four three year olds, two pregnant ladies, a baby, good food, and a lot of jumping on the beds and playing monster. (That would be the dads.) Four women bonded forever by sharing the experience of those tentative first steps of motherhood.

It is amazing to watch these four kids after three years and recall the first time we lined them up on the couch for a photo. They were so little, they kept flopping over and half of them were asleep. It's a bit trickier to get them all in a photo these days. Now they play together, and we are left to eavesdrop on their conversations, and made up games, and unique methods of conflict resolution.

Surprisingly during the weekend, I had time to sit quietly and read! I'm continuing on in Healing the Heart of Democracy, and I've been thinking about Palmer means when he talks about "Life in the Company of Strangers."

Romney made some comments last week about Obama purchasing the support of blacks, Hispanics, women and young people. FoxNews pundits can't seem to shut up about the demise of traditional America. There seems to be a lot of fear and misinformation in these remarks. The fear of "other" is a dangerous one, Palmer writes.

Because our country is deeply segregated, most people live lives in which they are surrounded by people who are the same. People prefer to live this way because it is more comfortable, and I can certainly understand this. I often felt wildly uncomfortable when I lived in Phoenix and everybody else spoke better Spanish than I did, and the cultural norms were completely different. There were all these degrees of Hispanic and Latino that I didn't get, because where I came from, everything south of Texas is sort of lumped together. It's not the sort of thing you can really ask about, so you just figure it out along the way.

I wasn't a bad person for not getting it. But living, as Palmer says, in the company of strangers gave me the gift of broadening my views. Now, when I hear immigration policy being debated in the media, I know that Hispanic and Latino are awfully broad categories and include people of every economic class and many, many nationalities and backgrounds. I know that some of my prejudices had more than a few grains of truth, such as Latinos valuing education (as a teacher, I felt about a thousand times more respected by the community when I worked in south Phoenix, than any other place in the country). I know that some of my other assumptions ended up being very wrong (that Latinos all agree on immigration).

Sometimes it's messier. We have a regular cast of panhandlers and hustlers on our block. Their solicitations are annoying, and sometimes aggressive. I get tired of hearing their lines over and over again as they reach out to a new line up of cars at the traffic light, or the next truck that pulls into the gas station. Nonetheless, I choose to look them in the eye and say good morning. I choose to acknowledge their humanity first. Same with the drug dealers and prostitutes. Because, like me, they all have a story and a reason for being in the place they are.

I still call 911 and report anything that can even remotely be considered a crime.

But even this feels complex and terrible sometimes when the cops actually do show up and arrest someone and you know that incarceration really doesn't solve many problems except getting the problem temporarily out of your view.


Healing democracy is not going to be easy, Mr. Palmer. The more thoughtful you are about it, the less resolved you feel.

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