Letter: Build bridges, expand your circle, be accepting

From: Jim Farless


Us or them? It’s a question we all ask when we meet someone. Is this person sufficiently like me to be included as one of “us” or does he/she belong with “them”? The question is being asked even if it’s at a subconscious level. It’s a primal, self-defense mechanism.

The answer to the question is important. It determines how we treat the other. Do we extend an open hand, bestow all rights and privileges, respect, justice, common courtesy? Are we willing to lend assistance if they are in need? Can they be trusted?

It may be an overly simplified construct, but it seems we all have a circle of folks we consider as “us.” It includes folks we love; people we care about; family; friends; neighbors; members of our congregation, temple or mosque. Some individuals have grown their circles to encompass all the above as well as members of other races, other religions, other nationalities, other social classes and other political parties. They are never satisfied with their circle. They know their circle can be better, larger and more inclusive. So they work on their circle. They listen to others, they take diversity training, they read books on a wide range of subjects, they watch news channels with a different perspective than their own, and they do soul searching.

So how healthy is your circle? With the political landscape that we have experienced during the last election cycle, we all should be checking the health of our circles. When we vote, we are choosing the world we want to live in. Last year we had a candidate who dismissed a large portion of the population as “deplorables” and ignored the pain felt by those in other demographics. That circle is not large enough. It’s not the world I want to live in.

Another candidate made statements that were sexist, racist and ethnocentric. This person behaved more like a playground bully than a presidential candidate. That circle also is not large enough. It’s not the world I want to live in.

We should demand better. I suggest that for the next four years we work on our circles. Find those people who are looking to expand their circles and work together. Dream of the world you want to live in and start the hard work of making it a reality. Get involved. Stretch your comfort zone. Try to become your best self. Insist that your political party give you better choices.

As we strive to improve our circles, let us remember that fear makes us shrink back into our enclaves while courage allows us to live boldly; lack of knowledge leads us to oversimplify the beautiful complexity of life while knowledge allows us to live life to its full potential; walls build enemies while bridges build friendships; selfishness leads us to become misers while generosity allows our resources to bear fruit.

With understanding and generosity let us courageously build bridges. If it can be done anywhere in Indiana, it can be done here in Columbus. Remember that this was one of the first cities in the state to form a Human Rights Commission. We are home to Ethnic Expo, CAMEO, an Inclusive Community Coalition and an interfaith campus.

Us or them? May we all be joined as “us.”