Community Conversations: Well built bridges take time

  • Dublin resident Grace Aldrich is set to embark on a 1,700 mile journey from New York to Texas, starting this spring, to bring attention and help with the healing process surrounding the family separation policy. Photo by Ben Conant

  • Dublin resident Grace Aldrich is set to embark on a 1,700 mile journey from New York to Texas, starting this spring, to bring attention and help with the healing process surrounding the family separation policy. Photo by Ben Conant

Published: 2/11/2020 11:09:36 PM

Well built bridges take time. Whether they span rivers or ideological divides, they require thoughtful engineering to be viable. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to construct and cost the current equivalent of over $400,000,000 USD. Occasionally, major renovations are needed to sustain the connection from one side to another. Investing time and taking risks are also needed to build bridges in our communities and personal relationships.

Being reminded of some useful tools and approaches to create sustainable bridges over topics such as race, politics, and religion is helpful.

Curiosity is always a good place to start. In Adrienne Maree Brown’s “Holiday How To”, http://adriennemareebrown.net/2017/11/23/holiday-how-to/ she gives poetic advice on how to have difficult conversations at Thanksgiving. “Ask curious questions,” is one of the lines. When first reading this, I thought, “That seems redundant.” But in a tense exchange about politics our questions can become rhetorical and judgmental. Frequently our questions serve a talking point agenda. If, for example, you find yourself asking, “What, are you an idiot?” The inquiry is likely less than sincere. Slowing down and softening into vulnerable curiosity creates space to frame a connection.

Being vulnerable is another essential tool and part of the process. On June 25 th 2018, I participated in the first Talking About Race Series at the Peterborough Public Library. I hadn’t done anything like it before and was nervous. The projected audience of 25 people swelled to 80. My neighbor, Jim Guy, and I sat in the middle of a large circle, had a candid conversation and answered questions about our experiences of being Black for almost 2 hours. I had an emotional hangover for days after. “Will I be dismissed or resented?” “Did I confirm someone’s stereotype of an angry black woman?”

The talks have been a wonderful and difficult example of curiosity and vulnerability in action. Creating home and belonging in a place where you regularly explain your humanity is challenging no matter how receptive the audience. To be clear, people of color are not obligated to teach white people anything. Navigating sensitive subjects and testing boundaries is messy but remaining silent might effectively amputate parts of your perspective needed to cross a cultural gap. Besides, points of friction and discomfort provide opportunities for communal growth. During the second session of the series the audience gets to be vulnerable. Allen Davis, the organizer and facilitator of Talking About Race, leads a group through a brainstorming session to come up with small ways that they can create more racial awareness, connection, and justice in their lives. Since that first series, many hard and useful group conversations have been generated. Book clubs, town events, and anti-racist initiatives have grown out of those conversations and continue to strengthen the weave of our communities.

Surveying the land, testing building materials, and gathering precise coordinates are steps taken before beginning a physical structure. Researching your foundation is key to a successful bridge. Prior to building relationship bridges this can be summed up with a quote from Apollo’s Temple at Delphi, “Know Thyself”. It is the internal movement of getting to know “the lay of the land” and being curious about your ideological foundations.

Take time to understand why you believe what you believe before asking someone to meet you half way. How do your views function in practice? Where are your triggers? Self-awareness shapes a solid starting point. If we are deep in denial and don’t practice self-reflection, we build unsound structures full of pitfalls. It’s the equivalent of a rickety rope bridge that Indiana Jones wouldn’t want to test.

So why bother? Where would we be without these bridges? Isolated and stuck. Unable to reach home. Once a strong bridge is built, it may even out live us. We can’t know the ways we are building for lovely unexpected connections in generations to come.

Grace Aldrich is a mother, storyteller, facilitator, and reiki practitioner from Dublin, NH. She is committed to inviting people to heal and find belonging. To find out more about her work and upcoming walk to the Texas border, please visit https://www.walkingwithgrace.net/.

Join Community Conversations: ‘How do we build bridges?’ Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Monadnock Center in Peterborough at 7 p.m.

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