Riding the See-Saw

Festive elegant abstract background with bokeh lights and stars TextureHere’s a law of physics that every preschooler knows: To have fun on the seesaw (or I should say teeter-totter now that I’m a Minnesotan), you need two people. Movement, balance, and those joyous bumps all depend on having weight at both ends.

This is true for so much else as well! A good conversation needs two people with different opinions and a willingness to listen. A healthy relationship needs tension as well as commonality. A productive solution to any problem addresses multiple aspects of that problem. The truth itself is never singular but always sitting right in the center of paradox.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m pondering our public rhetoric, especially around the upcoming election and in response to ongoing, systemic racism in our country. Our propensity for one-sided thinking is rampant. Police are pigs. Protestors are disruptive. Trump’s insane, Clinton’s a crook. None of these lopsided beliefs comes close to depicting our complicated reality. Most (although not all) police are good people working hard to protect our neighborhoods, who are nonetheless influenced by deep-rooted, personal fears and questionable training and a culture that distrusts difference. Most (although not all) protesters are ordinary people outraged by injustice and frustrated by their leaders’ inability to rectify it and desperate to do something. Most (although not all) politicians are flawed individuals trying their best.

The truth of a situation always requires us to embrace complexity. I am a well-intentioned, privileged white woman, educated in racial politics, profoundly influenced by my African American teachers and friends, who nonetheless has racist tendencies. I’m good and bad, as is everyone else. I project badness onto other people all the time (my poor partner, for example, or leaders of my rival political party or the United Methodist Church), and generally find that this projection doesn’t serve anyone, including myself. It’s like pushing my playmate off the seesaw. I might feel righteous and my worldview might seem clear, but I know from experience that I’m deceived.

The trouble with the dualistic thinking that’s so rampant in each of us as well as in public discourse is that it fosters evil. An extreme tilt of the seesaw brings out the sniper and the fascist and the terrorist—the exceptions within humanity. Which is why in these tenuous times I urge everyone, myself included, to practice opening our hearts to life’s wide and wondrous complexity.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew



In the messy middle of a project, writers need three things: tools for getting perspective, support from peers, and time to write. I’ll be hosting a retreat from September 12-16 that offers all three, plus a gorgeous place to write. Join me for the Alone Together retreat on Madeline Island.

Isn’t summer the best?!

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