What kind of community do we want to live in?
How do we want to be treated by the people around us?
What do we need to do to be able to treat others with complete respect?
How can we be civil when we’re not being listened to or treated well?
I’ve got lots of questions. Probably you do, too. We invest a good deal of our time and energy in figuring out some of the answers as we make our way through each day. One of the great things about being in the Athens area is being among so many others who are trying to do the same thing. The result is a community where we have learned to be welcoming and thoughtful much of the time. A friend who has recently returned to Athens after some years in several other cities mentioned how much more open and friendly people are here on a fairly regular basis.
One of the times the questions sound more emphatically is when differences are part of the picture. We are different in many ways, by culture, language, gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, abilities, social position, occupation, religion, beliefs, and more. This is a very, very good thing that adds so much richness and uniqueness to our communities. Still, our response to these differences may add some tension and discomfort as well. It may become very important that we find ways to talk about these differences in meaningful ways, without blame or guilt or attack, if we want to reach our potential as individuals and as a community.
We’ve seen the results of failing to have these meaningful conversations. We lose track of the things we share in common. Safety, connection, and community can be eroded. Some end up feeling excluded and disrespected. Others may feel criticized, blamed and isolated. Some give up while others keep fighting to be noticed and heard. Many people can become polarized and prejudiced. The conditions can be created that foster bigotry and even violence.
To continue to move toward the kind of place we want to be and the kind of people we want to be, we’ll need to try to share our experiences, ideas, and struggles and listen to those of others. We’ll need to figure out how to talk with each other knowing we may not initially agree or understand. We’ll need to explore what it means to have challenging conversations in a lively and civil way.
There will be a Town Hall forum this Tuesday, April 19, from 6:30 – 8:30 PM at the Athens Community Center to address some of our concerns and ideas on diversity and civility, sponsored by the City of Athens , the Athens Community Relations Commission, and the League of Women Voters of Athens County.
It may look a little different than some of the forums, as we’ll spend a good chunk of time meeting in small groups, giving every voice a chance to be heard and giving all of us a chance to learn from each other. It is certain to be engaging and maybe even fun. I look forward to seeing you there.
In community, John Schmieding Chair, Athens Community Relations commission
276 Highland Avenue , Athens , OH