Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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No matter what side of the street you’re on, everyone belongs in community.

“I don’t give to panhandlers,” she tells me. “I just walk right by.”

I am listening intently. She is there to find out more about affordable housing for formerly homeless citizens and I am there to hear her views.

“Nobody listens to what I have to say,” she tells me. “So why should I bother to share my thoughts?”

“Your voice matters,” I tell her. “And if you don’t share it, we won’t hear it.”

She looks at me with suspicion. Yeah. Right, her quizzical look seems to say.

She goes on to tell me about last summer when she went downtown for a Stampede Breakfast and afterwards, as she walked towards Rope Square, a big outdoor performance space that pops up during Stampede in the City Centre, she walked past a man who asked her if she could spare some change so he could buy a cup of coffee.

“You know they’ve got free pancakes and sausages a couple of blocks away,” she told him. “Why don’t you go get in line?”

The man apparently laughed at her suggestion he go line up and replied. “I’m not going to line up for breakfast!”

She was shocked. “Imagine him not being willing to go and line up for food yet he’s willing to beg for money,” she told me indignantly.

“Was he visibly homeless?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “He was quite dirty and kind of smelly too.”

“I wonder if his reluctance to line up had more to do with his experience of how people on the street treat him,” I commented. “Perhaps he’s been abused so often by passers-by he doesn’t want to risk what people will say to him if he stands in line.”

“Oh my,” she replied. “I hadn’t looked at it that way. I wonder if he was more afraid than lazy.”  She paused and seemed to get lost in her thoughts for a few moments before adding, “It’s horrible what we do to each other isn’t it?”

Yes it is, I replied.

Last night I attended a community Open House to talk about a new affordable housing project the Foundation I work for is looking to build. My job was to answer questions, to listen, to encourage people to fill out the comment forms as they left the room.

It was also to hold space for each person in attendance to give voice to their feedback, their concerns, their opinions. Without judgement. Without pushing back into their opinions. Without trying to change their minds but rather, to create common ground in which every voice was heard.

A group of women I approached to ask if I could answer their questions told me they had none. They hated the idea and didn’t want to talk about it.

Another man told me I was lying, no matter what I said in response to his questions, he wanted to hold fast to his belief he was right.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can block our vision, shut down our capacity to hear, close off our minds.

As I said to one man, “We all fear change. This is a community that is experiencing great change on every level. Fear is a natural response.”

“I’m afraid these people will come here and destroy everything,” he replied.

“Is everything the way you like it now?” I asked.

His response was fast and vehement. “Oh no! This community is a mess. It’s not like it used to be.”

His ‘used to be’ was over 50 years ago when he and his bride moved into the house they still live in today. “There were kids everywhere,” he said. “We knew everyone on our street. Today, I barely know my next door neighbour.”

It is hard to accept change when what we are yearning for is a past that no longer exists. It is hard to see the future when all we see is the loss of what we once had that gave us a sense of belonging in our community.

For the people who took the time to share their views last night, whether they were for or against the project, there was a common thread throughout the conversation. ‘Our community has changed.’

As I stood and watched the people milling about, the small groups gathering, some of them eyeing those of us from the Foundation with suspicion, angrily talking amongst themselves, while others smiled and talked about the possibilities of the project, I was reminded of Ghandi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

For those who came out to speak against the project, they are being the change they want to see in the world. They are working hard to protect what they have so that they can continue to feel like they belong in their community.

For those who were in favour of the project, they too are intent on creating the change they want to see in the world.

They are all part of community. That powerful place of connection and belonging, no matter what side of the street they walk.

Namaste.

 


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Truth is not a weapon.

Truth is not a weapon I wield like a sword, chopping down those who oppose me.

Truth is where I stand in my heart, allowing all things to be as all things are, without the need to make all things be my truth.

 

So often, we believe to have our truth heard, we must speak above others, drowning out their voices so only ours remains.

That is not truth-speaking.

For our truth to be heard, we must speak it in peace. Using our words kindly to create space for someone else to hear us, and for us to hear them.

Sometimes, truth can hurt. But it hurts much less when we take care to speak our truth with compassion, giving care to how the other will feel when the words we speak stand between us.

Are our words a barrier or a bridge?

Are they a minefield of discord or filled with a desire to find common ground?

Do our words pierce like an arrow or open minds to understanding one another’s hearts?

I was at a meeting yesterday where two years ago, the same people sitting around the table sat on opposite sides of the fence. To find common ground, we had to make room for all truths to stand without judgement. We had to allow space for our opposing views to be heard without fear of being drowned out in the anger and fear of our differing perspectives and understanding of what had happened. We had to listen to what ‘the other’ had to say about what had gone wrong, and what wasn’t working without denying the truth of what was said.

In the process, we found room for all our views to co-exist. We found strength to bridge the gaps between our differing views to create a better everyone could live with and within.

There is truth in everything, yet not all things are true.

It is true, there is war in the world. Yet, the whole world is not engaged in war.

It is true, there is discrimination in the world. Yet, discrimination does not rule the whole world.

It is true, there is poverty. Yet, poverty is not true for everyone.

Until we hear all things without fearing ‘the truth’ of all things, we will not find the path to see and hear and feel what is true without fearing the other’s truth will prevail, take over, overcome what is true in our world.

Until we speak our truth, in peace, allowing love and compassion to soothe our words, our truth will be viewed by someone as untrue or unkind.

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”  ― Warren W. Wiersbe

Until our truth becomes the ground upon which we stand in love and harmony, our truth will be the weapon others use to stand apart.

Namaste.

 

 

 

 


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Stop Judging

I had coffee with a dear friend yesterday, one of my oldest here in this city. I needed his guidance on something and he gladly offered up his time.

As we sat and talked and laughed and shared our hopes and dreams and challenges I was struck by how much we have both been ‘made different’ through this friendship.

My friend is pragmatic. He can always serve up a dour perspective on life and the economy, on government’s and social movements that states, ‘we are all going to hell in a handbasket’. In his pragmatic approach I have learned to listen to and honour another perspective, to hear another’s voice with awe and gratitude. And in that hearing, I let go of criticism, and the need to change the other to my point of view and open up to learning and growing on the common ground of respect for one another.

I am less pragmatic, taking a more Pollyanna approach to life and living. I want him to see the goodness in all mankind, the possibility of ‘better’, the imperative of kindness and letting people be their experiences while ensuring no one dies on our streets. His response has generally been, “Then let them experience cleaning up, getting a job, getting on with life. It’s not a free-ride.”

When I worked at the homeless shelter, I struggled to convince him to see the world of homelessness through my eyes. And he resisted my insistence he was wrong to view the world his way. Go figure. Over time, I quit insisting he see it my way by admitting the errors of his way, and moved into a place where his way had equal voice. And in that shift, everything shifted. We were both made different. We both let go of our intransigent views and opened up to the possibilities of another way — another way that lead to the building of common ground for the mutual benefit of all. Where once the line was drawn and we could not cross the barriers of our convictions, the light has filtered in, creating softness in those places where once only hard rock theories abounded.

To make a difference in the world I must let go of my insistence that my way is the only way. Years ago, while healing from an abusive relationship that almost cost me my life, I asked my therapist, “If I’m an experiential learner, why is it I need such big experiences to get to where I want to be?”

And he replied, “There were a thousand paths you could have taken. This just happens to be the one you took. Accept where you’re at and stop judging the journey. Where you’re at is where you’re at. Period.”

To make a difference in the world I must stop judging where others are at and find the common ground of where we all live in a world where everyone has value and every point of view creates a world we can live in without fear.