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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Talk Story

When we lived in Hawaii, we were introduced to the art of kuka kuka, translated as "talk story." When you wanted to do business with someone, you wouldn't get right down to what you had in mind. You would first take some time, as much as it took, to connect with that person by finding a relationship; for example, a common ancestor or friend or maybe a similar experience, a school or neighborhood you both connected with. You did this by telling your stories. That developed a bond and led to trust.

Most successful competitors and even enlightened opponents try to get to common ground on which to build a win-win relationship for the present and on to the future. When I read President Obama's books prior to him running for President I felt sure that he could do this, that he could understand where even those with whom he disagreed were coming from and the values they were affirming that he could also. When he became President he regularly took Republican ideas and tried to sell them to his own party. That was certainly so in his approach to the banks, industry, and Wall Street to stabilize the markets and save capitalism. And for Health Care, he dropped the public alternative that many of us wanted and took on the solution that the Republican standard bearer Romney used in Massachusetts.

But of course, his opponents were not for making him a winner even if they won themselves. Their sole intent as spoken by the ranking Republican in the Senate was to make him fail. To them Obama seemed a highly educated, smooth-talking, arrogant elitist. And there are certain people, especially from the South, who don't like to see an arrogant black man.

Conversing with Cousin Vinnie, I realize that, despite a family relationship, knowing many of the same people, being of the same age, and lots of kuka kuka, we have no common ground on which to have the civil discourse that is required for the politics of a democratic republic. We see the facts so differently even when we actually consider them.  I have a Howard Zinn, Frederick Douglas, Eugene Debs history of the USA while he has a Walt Disney, John Wayne, Davy Crockett history of our country. Look at how Obama was so roundly condemned as a traitor to Christian America in his effort at the National Prayer breakfast to show the commonality of all religions by pointing out the distortions in Christendom as well as Islam. It was an expression of humility through shared history that was understood as arrogance.

I believe that there is a common ground in our shared human race which I have said elsewhere is our ability to think, to transcend our culture and even our nature, to reach beyond ourselves to new horizons. That is the dignity, some would say divine spark, in each of us. But even there Cousin Vinnie would express that very differently because we have such a different language. We would not agree on what that common ground is. We have different myths and narratives to interpret "facts."

And so I have come to the tentative conclusion that, if we want to achieve a new transcending politics, we need to look primarily to what we want, rather than at what we have accepted as true. Instead of common ground, we need to intend a common future. I don't think this can be done in the political parties and their true believing bases; or by radio-TV pundits who make their living demonizing "the other side" and their faithful "ditto heads." It can only happen in true publics where people in neighborhoods, congregations, and associations focus on what they want for their families, neighborhoods, schools, board rooms, congregations, and cities and how they might get there by avoiding all the politically loaded names and name-calling.

We have to be optimists, that is, hopeful that we can solve our problems. We must not dwell on the evils of humanity and its past and present, nor judge that the world and humanity are going to hell. We must not be waiting for the perfect leader or the right politician or party to be in control. If we have hope, we believe that we have in us the ability to come together and make a difference.

We talk story, kuka-kuka, to rise beyond our old tapes and categories, to envision and build a common future, rather than a common ground. "Everything that rises must converge" said the poet-scientist.