Staying in the Room with Difference

Jan Wright, Publisher, iBi

Not long after the November election, Oprah Winfrey remarked that, for the first time since her show went off the air in 2011, she missed the daily back and forth. “[What] I most looked forward to happened after we finished taping, when I’d spend 30 or 40 minutes chatting with the audience. All kinds of people were in those audiences… They talked. I listened. I talked. They listened. We shared a goal: to hear one another.”

That is a common denominator in the human experience: “We all want to be heard. We all want to know that what we’re saying and feeling matters.” On the other hand, she adds, “Our differences enrich the human mix. And we all should be open to embracing the chance for more interaction, for conversations that both challenge and affirm the way we see each other.”

Over the years, I’ve learned that everyone has a story—and that all of us want to be seen and heard. Not every article is of interest to every reader, but each is important to someone. And that’s okay!

The acute divisions we see in our country today are harmful to our collective national ideal—one that seeks to lift all of our neighbors up, whatever our differences. Unfortunately, we all know people across the political spectrum with little to no tolerance for other points of view. Such narrowmindedness gets us nowhere.

Our region has recently taken some hits. With regard to last year’s 24/7 Wall St study, Councilwoman Denise Moore suggests that everyone can play a role in affecting change—but we must put in the work to make it happen. And then there was Caterpillar’s headquarters announcement, which left most of us on edge, wondering what’s next. In both cases, the silver lining may be the recognition that we are all in this together: that we need each other to survive and thrive. Whether tackling the issues of racial disparity or diversifying our regional economy, we must help each other, guide and mentor our youth, and support our local businesses, nonprofit organizations and civic institutions.

The recent passing of Congressman Bob Michel seemed also a farewell to an “old-fashioned” way of politics—but his congenial, ethical and inclusive approach sure would be useful in DC today. He will long be remembered as a hero, a role model, and a kind, remarkable human being. Like Oprah, Bob understood the art of “staying in the room with difference”—a lesson for all who believe in a renewed culture of respect and civility. iBi

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