While debriefing Narrative 4 circles I facilitate in and beyond Nashville, I often hear people say things like, “This experience reminds me of how much we all have in common. Most of the time, we’re all focused on all our differences, but we just need to remember that we are all more alike than we are different.”
This is a lovely sentiment, and one that may even be true. But it also might not be. While prioritizing the search for common ground has great use, it also runs the risk of assuming we must do this because difference is bad.
More than once during our month together, I heard Pádraig say, “We need to populate our language with plurals.” Singular language often impoverishes our understanding of issues and ideas.
Populating our language with plurals may help us remember that we are all multitudes. Even the person we think we totally understand—we don’t. Our simple, un-nuanced, stereotypical ways of speaking need always to be further complicated.
“We need more villains in our stories.” I hear Pádraig’s words as a challenge to listen to how we tell stories. More specifically, how we scapegoat in the way we tell stories.
Everything political is personal for someone. Politics, at its etymological root, has to do with how we organize our lives and affairs with the people we live among. And how we live among each other affects us all in personal ways.
Being able to understand is not the same as justifying, or agreeing with, or supporting. It’s simply being able to get your head around why and how that person, in their context with their story and their pain and their experiences and their relationships and their wiring, might come to think and act as they do. In the end, this is all about empathy.
Pádraig helped open this up for me—the importance and insufficiency of names. At once, it does not matter what names we use—because no name can actually hold what it tries to name; and also, it matters entirely what names we use—because our words create and break worlds.