Conversations Worth Having
Recently I found myself in a social setting seated among a group of friends and associates when the people in the group began to discuss their perceptions of increased crime. I was troubled by some of their statements and so disappointed in the direction the conversation was going that I excused myself. I needed time to process what I’d just heard and do some reflection.
Years ago, I had a boss who was notorious for taking the floor and sharing stories of his childhood. Typically, the same stories over and over again. I didn’t mind it much when he hogged the spotlight because I enjoyed many of the stories. At times they were entertaining, insightful, and often had some life lesson rolled into the center of them.
My favorite was the story of his days living with his grandmother. He’d go out and play with neighborhood kids and return home to see her sweeping the sidewalk in front of their house and cleaning up around the yards of their immediate neighbors as well. According to him this was a near-daily routine for them. One of those days he came home and asked her why she insisted on cleaning up in front of their house and those of their neighbors. Her reply crystalized his view moving forward on how he’d approach the world.
His grandmother said that she cleaned in front of the other homes because while that singular home where they lived belonged to the two of them, the block belonged to everyone. Thus, there was an inherent responsibility for everyone to take pride and put effort toward a clean and safe community to benefit everyone.
Community isn’t built on the idea of just what you do and what you have for yourself, it is wrapped up in what we do and share with each other. Looking back, I should have recounted that story with the group I walked away from when they were talking about the problem of crime.
It is easy to sit and point out the problems that face us. It is more difficult to sit and talk about solutions—yet that is the challenge in this moment that we must all rise to, tackling the difficult conversations. I have grown leery and quite disheartened as of late, particularly when I hear people who claim to have progressive values talk about their desire for leaders to be tough on crime—but don’t express the same adamant desires for their leaders and institutions to double down on the programs, services, and resources needed in communities to act as interventions that would prevent crime and improve the lives of individuals, families, and the health of the whole community.
The next time I find myself as audience to a discussion where the participants want to solely point fingers at people—but not systemic policies—I am committing to elevate the conversation and try my best to take others on the journey with me to focus on both cause and effect, and not just problems, but solutions. We have to ground with truth, context, and nuance, and then elevate the discourse.
If someone in our community is disconnected from opportunity, we can’t just view it as their problem. We are a community, and we are better and stronger when we care for each other as such. We can’t expect to have a safe and healthy block, neighborhood, or nation when we only concentrate on sweeping in front of our own yard. Sometimes our neighbors to the right or to the left may need support and we should be there to offer it. And talking negatively about them—their yards, or current life circumstances—certainly doesn’t do any good.
Thoughtful dialogue with friends and family may not immediately change the world. But it can be an important step in shifting points of view which could influence how they see things, build empathy, and push them to do something big or small to be more of a light in darkness. ▼
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he’s also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: @Mr_CJFluker.