When I returned from lunch one of my staff members said to me, “Mitch, I want you to tell me how to do that.” To do, what? I asked. “You and Bob just went to lunch together and you two do not agree on anything.”
“We know that,” I replied, “but we are friends.”
I was asked to do the eulogy at a friend’s funeral which I was honored to do. Again an attendee at the funeral said to me, “I did not know that you and Sam were friends. You are total opposites.” What the attendee did not know is that Sam picked me up once a week so we could go to breakfast together.
How did we become so divided as a people? Where did we learn to hate those with whom we disagree?
A volunteer in our organization served as a missionary in the Philippines. I invited her and her husband to dinner at our home. She said, “My husband will not eat with you.” Shocked by her response, I said, “I don’t even know your husband. Why would he not eat with me?”
“Because you associate with Black people,” she said.
My children were teenagers at the time. Our home was a safe place for them to bring their friends of whatever race or place of origin. There were rules, but to our surprise and gratitude the teenagers themselves enforced the rules. Often they would say to someone acting out of line, “You are not going to spoil this for the rest of us.”
I am distressed about the meanness in our society, but what can I do? I have no power, no high office, and no authority. The answer came in a poem from college days written by Annie Johnston Flint.
“He has no hands, but our hands, no tongue but our tongue.”
I have a voice and I can use it to encourage others. I can speak kindly to those I meet or to those who read what I write. There are those who scoff at my naiveté, but there are enough of those who say, “Thank You,” to keep me going.
I believe in the innate goodness of people and if given a chance it will manifest itself. How can I hate you? I don’t even know you.
I grew up in the segregated South. My sister and I are blessed that our parents did not teach us to hate. They were products of their time, but they knew that the world we were growing up in was not the world that they knew.
We are one people from many different backgrounds. We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of this great land. None of us had anything at all to do with where we were born. We have everything to do with how we react to each other.
I believe in you. I believe that you are a good person. I know that you have hopes and dreams like I have hopes and dreams. I know that you want the best life possible for your children. I know that because that is what I want for my children.
I have one voice and I am using it, but I deeply want you to join me. Together we can become an army that fosters a sense of hope and good will. Are there those who will scoff and make fun of you? Yes there are, but they are in the minority.
Our constitution says, “We the people.” That is a powerful and uniting statement. “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union.” We have not arrived. We are still forming.
Join me in transforming the mean environment of our time into a more accepting, more encouraging, more embracing society. I can’t do it, but we can do it.
Mitch Carnell is the author of Our Father: Discovering Family and the founder of the Say Something Nice Day. He is a member of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. He blogs at www.mitchcarnell.com.