The One About What to Do Now (Or, Notes to Students at Sandy Spring Friends School)

One of the wonderful and challenging and difficult and necessary things that happens during that period of time when you are no longer a child and not yet a grownup is that you begin to paint your own picture of what the world is really like. You choose colors and a surface. You pick the subject matter, the composition, the medium. You get to decide if it will be abstract or realistic, finely-rendered or broad-brushed. You will work on this for a very long time. It will go through any number of phases and, as time goes on, it will become your masterpiece.

You are not alone. People will come by and almost all of them will offer a critique, give advice, tell you what to do, smile, cry, encourage you, ridicule you, and, in all manner of ways, let you know that your painting should change—often so that it might look less like yours and more like theirs.

The space you are in will get noisy. There will be competition for your attention which, at times, will be intense. You are, for some, valuable; not intrinsically but as a source of consumer data which can be gathered and monetized. Indeed, what you focus on is priceless, not to be trivialized; what you care about become the colors of your palette.

It is not helpful for me to say “ignore everyone.” We are in community together, and different points of view don’t just matter, they are indispensable. The loud voices aren’t always wrong, and the soft, alluring voices need to be held up and tested too. You hold the paint brush and, at the end of the day, your decisions are your own; albeit, influenced by many things starting with your culture, your traditions, and, yes, your education.

You might have heard that Americans don’t agree on much. This has always been true, and, in some ways, has been a great strength of our country. A free people are free to disagree and still, through the workings of an active civil society and a respect for compromise, unite and govern.

If you are a student at Sandy Spring Friends School you may only remember two presidents: Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Depending on how old you are and how interested you are in politics you may only, really, have experienced the world, the political world that is, with Donald Trump as President.

Donald Trump is my twelfth president. The President sets a tone. As you are working on your composition, I would like to suggest that what is going on now, and the divisive (and at times derisive and dishonest) tone that is being currently set is not normal. But it is going on. And we all have the choice—the obligation really—to decide how the present tone matters, how it fits into our painting.

It matters more to some than to others. Whether you identify as a coal miner, a millionaire, a girl, an immigrant, a Native American, a Christian, or all of these things or none of these things, we have been and we will be impacted as individuals and as community.

Often, I am told that Friends values are less unique then universal. Embracing Friends values does not ask for, let alone require, renunciation of one thing or membership of another. Exclusivity binds and blinds.

It is in this spirit that I offer ten small points of light to illuminate your canvas as you are hard at work:

1. Look for the Goodness within each person.
2. Imagine your family is really, really, big, boisterous, and includes distant and very distant relatives (everyone).
3. Take care of each other. Treat strangers as angels (Hebrews 13:2).
4. Mad about something? Organize.
5. Distraught about something? Vote.
6. Read great literature. It is a way to celebrate our differences while reminding us that we have always had more in common than not.
7. Listen carefully to people whose views and ideas are incompatible with yours.
8. Don’t raise your voice. Or only sparingly (See #4 and #5).
9. Practice the Golden Rule.
10. Stand back, look at the painting, breathe, and proceed as Way Opens.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>