Reaching Across the Divide to 'at last act for love'

Like most people I know, I woke up feeling devastated, angry and fearful about the result of the Federal election. The bubble I exist in was popped, the bubble being Melbourne; a Green seat. Every one of my social media feeds, was full of people asking questions of how and why and who, WHO voted for them? Them, being the coalition, well, a lot of people obviously, a lot of people who ‘we’ inside the bubble don’t seem to commune with, which is perhaps a problem?

As a good friend said to me the day after the election, as we discussed the dire results, we have to remember that the left and right wing are part of the same bird. Now, don’t get me wrong, I too have been incredibly angry toward those who continue to ignore the pressing issues which our country and world face, those who choose greed over humanity and who succumb to the fear mongering but, my feeling is that rather than be angry, hateful or belittling toward them, we need to find some way, to reach across the divide, to converse with one another, in order to save the bird. And even though I do exist in this bubble, and value and share the perspectives within it, I have at times felt, an (albeit quiet), arrogance in the left camp, with a fear that eventually I would be found out, that it would be discovered that I was in fact a ‘bogan-redneck-philistine’ originating from the Western Suburbs of Sydney, thus not fit for the camp. This arrogance is not welcoming,  nor does it open anyone to conversation; it does the opposite.  

I was the first person in my family to go to University, and while that is only one way and certainly not the only way, to gain access to an education and open to the wider world, it did change the way I think, and in turn affected the conversations, political ones included, which occurred in my family and home. Privilege and access to education plays a huge role, but it seems that, no one really wants to talk about class in this country, how it has shaped us and how it continues to shape us. I have heard and read remarks belittling those uneducated ‘bogans’, ‘rednecks’ and 'philistines’ who voted the coalition in, but speaking in this way, seems to only make the divide bigger, and keeps people exactly where the fear mongering politicians want us all to be - against one another. 

Parker. J. Palmer talks about this in his essay, What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?’ in which he writes about working hard to shift his anger toward those who voted in Trump, to try to understand why they may have voted this way, checking his privilege along the way. It was the words of poet May Sarton and her poem ‘Santos: New Mexico’, that helped him get started. Although Parker was writing in response to the 2016 election in America, so much of it resonates and rings true for what we are all facing right here, right now. 

Return to the most human, nothing less
Will teach the angry spirit, the bewildered heart,
The torn mind, to accept the whole of its duress,
And pierced with anguish, at last act for love.

- May Sarton

“What does it mean to “return to the most human” as we work to morph our anger into acts of love? For me, it means returning to my own story in order to reconnect with the stories of those who differ from me politically.

If I’m unable to understand that my life story gives me good reason and a few tools to understand people whose lives and politics diverge from mine, then I’m as heartless and witless as I believe our leaders to be.

What does it mean, in the words of May Sarton, to “at last act for love”? The answer depends on one’s gifts and callings. For me, it means at least this: I want to redouble my efforts to help us renew our capacity for civic community and civil discourse. I want to ride the energy of anger toward work that brings citizens together in life-giving live encounters…”

Parker goes on further to say “This work does not have to be done only in large-scale public forums, but can and should be done in smaller venues: the family, a friendship, neighbourhood, a congregation.” That does not mean not getting angry, get angry, but keep leaning in, no matter how difficult, to hear what the other has to say and in turn, to speak your own truth. 

Like many other posts I have read about not losing hope, about rising up, making noise, pushing back, extending in new ways, the time certainly is now. Hit the streets on Friday for the climate march, buy one less coffee a week and donate that money to Get Up, converse with someone you wouldn’t normally and never think that, that uncomfortable conversation with your neighbour, or individual act is too small, it’s not. Change is coming, surely that is why there has been such strong pushback from all corners of the globe, as those holding the reigns don’t wish to see such change. 

Finally, for those of us privileged enough to make - make. I am so grateful for this access, for art, which can be explicit but which also works so beautifully with ambiguity and as the poet Emily Dickinson said, the ability to ‘tell the truth but tell it slant’, so that the hard and blinding truth can be received. The time to create is now, pass the mic over to the poets, how necessary May Sarton’s words, as more than ever, surely, it is a time to ‘at last act for love’. 

Follow the link to read the full essay, and if you want more Parker. J. Palmer check out his essay titled ‘The Soul of A Patriot’ which delves further into these ideas of how to keep conversing with one another in and amongst conflicting ideas and beliefs.