How do we engage a world where addiction, rage, and violence have become so common, that we insulate ourselves in a bubble of indifference that makes us think we are immune to such things? That is, we feel immune until we feel the unrelenting impact of pain and grief that narrows our vision, weakens our knees, and deprives us of sleep. Secondly, for those that have experienced or are in the throes of a traumatic event, how do we engage with them?
I learned, long ago, that perspective is everything. Occasionally, though, I am reminded of this incredibly important nugget of truth. I was discussing the Tacoma News Tribune article about the devastation that is taking place in Tacoma on Hosmer south of 84th Street with a friend. She mentioned the homeless encampment that straddles Tacoma and Lakewood and how Tacoma leadership was doing nothing to address this homeless issue. I mentioned that some of the cities in our region refuse to address the shortage of affordable housing, the root cause, and yet pass laws that criminalize homelessness and provide bus rides to Tacoma for their homeless populations. I also mentioned that Tacoma is in the process of building multiple housing apartment buildings to address the lack of affordable housing. At that moment, my friend expressed that she was not aware of the small nugget of information I had shared. Thus, a piece of factual information shared among friends, altered for that moment, her perspective.
I can only imagine the perspective of the hundreds of people that for one of a number of reasons, lost their job, their relationship, connections to caring people and find themselves in life threatening situations every night. However, I do remember in vivid detail the day I experienced the trauma of being informed that my son had suddenly died. That soul crushing moment occurred 19 years ago, and occasionally, I’m reminded of the intensity of that moment. Today was one of those days. I took a call from a family that was still in the early stages of that unrelenting pain and grief that narrows vision and weakens the knees. Thus, I have a relatively good since of perspective of what that family is enduring.
Back to the first of my questions: How do we engage a world where addiction, rage, and violence have become so common, that we insulate ourselves in a bubble of indifference that makes us think we are immune to such things? The short answer is we don’t. We engage with people in close proximity on a daily basis building what I’ll call neighbor muscles, which we can call upon later when we need them. Neighbor muscles are the sets of humanly actions that, if we use them regularly, they will get better and stronger. Many are nonverbal but include the set of actions we can take as members of a beloved community. The situation which informed this life nugget occurred while I was stationed at Fort Leavenworth Kansas. The military grocery store, the Commissary, provided military prison trustees the opportunity to have engagement with customers as they bagged groceries. I carried on light conversations with a few of the trustees to remind them of the abundant life that awaits them after they complete their prison sentence. In the middle of my assignment there, on a December day after I had had my first automobile fender bender in an ice storm, and after hearing that my father-in-law had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, one of those trustees sought me out to bag my groceries and tell me about his pending release. I was unaware of how my countenance was different that day because of my burdens, but the prison trustee, a neighbor, saw and acted in my moment of need. Being a good neighbor went full circle for me that December day at Fort Leavenworth Kansas.
Before I address the second question I want to share a tidbit of natural science I learned from an NHK documentary titled Resurgence of the Seas: Natural Spectacles in Northern Waters, dated March 12, 2022. One of my takeaways from this fascinating documentary was that a massive school of fish create a whirlpool beneath an ideal surface feeding spot that draws food down the massive vortex providing food to all depths of the entire fish propelled water column. I’m not sure how the fish discovered that dramatic food delivery system process but it is apparent that the natural abilities of the fish make this endeavor possible. I have been taught and believe that it is natural for humans to reach out to others when in need. When we do, I believe we strengthen the natural muscles that help nourish the things that make us human.
The second question’s answer follows closely the first. It is human to reach out to another in a crisis. Thus, each of us, if we choose to, by reaching out can strengthen existing “humanity muscles” that have evolved with us for group survival. When we reach out to someone who reaches back, I believe a small nearly imperceptible vortex is formed. If enough of us do the same the momentum of the vortex grows stronger, perhaps providing something humans need to survive. Consistent with this thought process, on July 16, 2022, the Tacoma Branch NAACP, Vibrant Schools of Puget Sound, and the League of Women Voters in coordination with the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance’s Love thy Neighbor Initiative, Convened a Community, Civility and Connections event to help us identify some small tasks that, if we intentionally commit to do, will help us revive our humanity vortices that attract us together in a spirit of cooperation and neighborly behavior after a prolonged period of COVID era slack water. Such small tasks which are easily accomplished, can be repeated daily and over time will begin to create a reinforce vortex of attraction. This metaphor will only go so far but if fish can cooperate with naturally occurring processes to feed and take care of their entire fish community, their school, is it possible for humans to use our natural processes to reach out and reach back to one another while reconstituting our community?
The issues we are attempting to address did not just happen overnight, however, as we see, truly see, our neighbors, not just the political, religious, or economic caricatures they represent, our true recognition can change our perspective and restore the lens of possibility known as humanity. It revives and uplifts, if only for a moment in time, the fact that it has not always been this way and that the destructive habits which have eroded our ability to reach out and reach back are temporary. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything, the time for addiction to rage and violence, I believe, is inconsistent with the tenants of a beloved community. If time tells us anything, it surely tells us we will all have a time when we will be in need of a neighbor. If we nurture good neighbor behavior in the growing season the bonds created will sustain us when we are all needed to survive. Of course, some will choose not to be in community, as I am sure some of the fish in the sea near Hokkaido Japan choose not to do their part for the survival of the ocean community that comprise their home. However, the choice is ours and we have the human ability to think beyond our immediate circumstance and perhaps choose collaborative survival rather than personal hording resulting in the collapse of the life affirming vortex that attracts each of us and binds us together in community.
What small tasks or activities will you practice regularly to build and strengthen the bonds of humanity in our community?
Jonathan Johnson, President
Tacoma Branch NAACP
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