Why Am I Doing This?
One of the questions that people often ask me is why I am doing this. It may sound a bit strange to say, but I’ve found that it has become more difficult for me to answer this question. Three or four months ago I’d usually tell the person asking that I’d found value in listening from a fairly young age, and that the idea had come to me as a way to perhaps model the value of that in a public manner, to challenge the barriers we throw up to one another as strangers, to offer this time as a gift and so fulfill the need I feel as a human being to do something meaningful for others. This is to say, in part, that there was never just one reason, one motivation, one answer to this question in my mind. And I think that for me all of those things are true.
But as I spend more time sitting in that blue chair, the things that come to mind in trying to answer the ‘why’ question have increased, and perhaps some have become more prominent in my mind, or resonate more than others. It wasn’t conscious to me when I began almost six months ago, but I think I am doing this, at least in part, to try to work out a problem or a tension that has existed in me for a very long time, and one I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing. I’m speaking of that tension between the beliefs/certainties/wishes/desires/knowledge that I hold and through which I understand or judge the world – you might say that means the stuff that I stand for –; and my desire to live in peace, and with respect and care, for other people, and with the world-at-large.
I find myself feeling more certain that the change I would like to see in the world isn’t going to be achieved by choosing or creating ‘enemies’ and trying to cajole or harangue or war against those enemies until they come into line with my point of view. Here’s an example I’ll use for context. Whether you believe that climate change is real and/or human-driven or not, I think it is nearly impossible to deny that humans have done a lot of damage to the Earth for thousands of years. We have torn at its skin, filled its marshlands, cut down its forests, polluted and drawn down its waters. My personal belief is that we need to find new ways of living in partnership with the planet. We need to consider the nature of the world we have created and what is valuable to us. I think we need to find the love that I believe is in us, and learn how that love can be lived as a force for care and concern and nurturing for all living things including the Earth itself.
I don’t share this with you in a partisan sense. You may agree with some, all, or none of what I’ve written in that paragraph. What I’m trying to convey is that while I believe that there is a need, say, to stand up for the sanctity of a given forest or mountaintop or river, at the same time I don’t see how we are going to maintain a habitable planet if a substantial majority of us don’t agree that that is an essential goal, and one that makes it worthwhile to change the way we live to achieve.
So what does this have to do with me sitting out in public with two chairs? What I’m trying to share with you, if imperfectly, is that I believe part of the reason I’m doing this is because I have this intuition that we – the big ‘We’; all of us – need to make progress in finding common ground, in understanding what we have in common and how those identified commonalities of belief and value and need can move us to do better for all of us. How exactly we do this, I don’t know. But…. I have a gut feeling that creating opportunities to begin talking and listening, in a context where most likely no one is going to walk away feeling angry, or unheard, or disrespected, is a potential, if modest, means of working toward finding that common ground. My gut tells me that the wars, small and large, that we may feel we need to wage in the name of peace or justice or whatever you or I or others care about will not bring us to the ends that we desire. We need to find a greater creativity than that. I’m curious if I’ll feel this way six months from now.
Denise Mann26 December 2022 at 7:55 pm
Thank you for listening this afternoon. I agree with Eve you’ve said in your reasons why this project is valuable.
As Americans become more and more polarized and separated, I fear we are losing the ability to empathize.
I minored in philosophy in college simply as part of my quest to find elusive truths in the common threads.
Joshua Lazerson27 December 2022 at 7:34 pm
Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts Denise. I love your phrasing re: ‘find[ing] elusive truths in the common threads.”