Good evening, fellow Citizen.
Welcome to the eighth issue of No Easy Answers. This is a curated newsletter for curious, courageous Citizens who value open inquiry above rigid ideological thinking, and truth (no matter how messy) over easy answers and simple slogans.
Apologies with being late with the newsletter today. I've been working on a longer piece about how to bring the practice of "exposure therapy" into the realm of political discourse, but it's not quite ready for primetime yet.
In the meantime, here are three stories that expanded my thinking, and opened up my heart this week.
This piece gets at the heart of a few important truths about language.
First, the more we try to rid our language of harmful words, the more powerful and potentially harmful those words become. Here's a great quote.
"To banish a word does not diminish its power; it increases it, it adds the seductive quality of something that must be done in secret, a rule that wants to be broken. The words that are banished do not go away because the ideas they represent have not gone away, and will never go away if we give them so much power. They will stay there, beneath the surface, fermenting."
Second, underlying so much of the "words are violence" rhetoric today is an assumption that humans—specifically those who've been oppressed and marginalized—are fragile and weak, and that these words hold immense, preternatural power over them. Instead of empowering people, it does the opposite.
This, for me, is one of the countless instances in modern life where we're throwing so much well-intentioned energy into something, yet downstream, our efforts are having the exact opposite effect as intended.
Next up, an insanely long and winding reddit thread of people who used to hold racist views, but no longer do. You can scroll through this thing for upwards of an hour, and still not hit the bottom. There are a lot of powerful stories here.
But there's a similar theme that runs through nearly all of these stories, and that's connecting with someone of a different race—whether in school, at work, the military, etc—and slowly unwinding cultural/parental conditioning, and learning to see the full scope of our shared humanity.
We humans are wired to be tribal, and to make mountains out of molehill differences (like the pigmentation of skin). But few of those prejudices survive prolonged connection and understanding.
A breathtaking piece of writing from John Wood Jr about the messy path to a unified America, and the compromises we'll have to make to get there. Here are my two favorite excerpts:
The cause of unity cannot be the domain of high-minded intellectuals, moral philosophers, spiritual crusaders, psychologists, and political idealists alone. Ordinary Americans must be the artists in our renaissance of civic understanding if such a thing should ever come to be. We require a unified vision of an America that could be but has never been.
And then further down in the piece, he expands on this idea.
What do we share as Americans? Presumably, we share a belief in justice, equality, and freedom. We also share the reality of pain and suffering, of struggle and progress in America. We disagree on how our ideals should manifest. Some of our histories are weighted with more tragedy than others. But collectively we might imagine that, as a general rule, we as Americans wish to live up to these values. Our individual backgrounds explain why we see our history differently. Unity comes in recognizing these contrary commonalities as foundational for a dialogue of goodwill.
Thanks for reading, as always, and good luck out there.