Meet Me in The Aisle

To me the expression ‘reaching across the aisle’ is hogwash.  If you look at it, it means we have kept our feet firmly planted where we stand and are reaching with our arms. If we are going to meet on common ground, then let’s not reach across the aisle – but meet in the aisle.

As my college football coach once said, it is all about ‘feet and courage’. The most important attributes to play any defensive position in football, especially linebacker, is ‘feet and courage’.  Feet to get where the read dictates; feet that are active and with a wide base; feet to keep driving through the tackle. Courage to trust the instinct on the read; courage to be aggressive and make the tackle. Life needs to be lived with more ‘feet and courage’.  Feet to move us were we are called to be or need to be (as opposed to standing pat); active and wide to meet today’s challenges (as opposed to a statute or monument to the past) and feet to keep moving forward.  Courage to trust our hearts, to be better people, and to act.

Our sphere of influence tends to be where we are known best and want to fit in. We no longer have conversations with people not like us. We self-segregate into like-minded groups around race, politics, religion. When we find ourselves in these groups, it is easier to demonize the other side. We have become more concerned with our side, our viewpoint, our philosophies and that we are right or that we win and the ‘other side’ is wrong or they lose. We combine our feelings over what was said into who said it. Compromise is dead; giving an inch off our position is considered treason amongst our like-minded group. We don’t even agree to disagree, we simply just disagree, voraciously. There are no longer “civil” and spirited debates where each side listens with an empathetic ear.

It is a shame that in today’s world the investment of time and effort is focused on proving ourselves right or winning the debate, with little to none spent on trying to understand the other side or even the greater good. We no longer listen with discernment and patience seeking wisdom. We no longer reach outside our comfort zone.

A traditional Democratic state’s political machine will not allow progress of a Republican Governor while a Republican controlled House spent years blocking the efforts of a Democratic President. All of this because success of the other party does not meet their selfish desires. This type of behavior is not limited to politics.  One can witness it daily with regards to race, religion, and society in general.

I have taken my own advice and recently change my political party affiliation. I became eligible to vote in time for the 1980 election. Having been raised on the idea that societal health is rooted on personal responsibility and actions and all material things are earned and not owed, I registered Republican and voted for Ronald Regan.  However, today’s extreme rhetoric that comes from each party’s leadership has driven me to be unaffiliated. I am now in the aisle as an independent still holding on to those values I believe in. I am also a Catholic working in the aisle and investing a great deal of time, effort and money with a Protestant organization; an act some extremists on both sides of this debate can’t grasp.

When we see our side as right and our position as the norm, how do we collectively move forward?  Do we consider our actions to engage others as reaching out or do we view it as reaching down to help others up or pull them across the aisle? Do we even extend a hand?

Imagine that you have a piece of string between your two hands and consider it an analogy for moving something forward.  Pull upward at the extreme edges, what happens?  The extreme edges rise but the bulk of the string remains behind (sags).  The higher you pull the extreme edges, the more the rest of the string falls behind. Now move your hands closer to the middle and pull upward, what happens? There is greater overall lift of the string not just the extremes. When the extreme ends control the conversation only they gain.

How do we break this cycle and grow as a society in today’s world?  Consider Proverbs 18:15 – “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out”. Or consider doing more of Stephen Covey’s Habit #5 – ‘seek first to understand then to be understood’. Get down from our high horses, move our feet into the aisles and listen.  Listen to the other side with discernment as opposed to dismissing those ideas immediately. Within my collection of quotations, I have Abraham Lincoln’s, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” These words reflect an attitude of openness where individuals are not pre-judged before we even know much about them.

For help, we can tap into nature’s concept of symbiosis, a biological concept. Symbiosis is a partnership between organisms and has helped living creatures innovate and expand for billions of years. Symbioses have no deep-seated significance. Animals don’t work together because it’s a good idea to “break down silos” or “reach across the aisle” or “diversify their assets.” Symbiotic partnerships occur because they solve problems. Sometimes one side of the partnership benefits enormously while the other barely benefits, and it doesn’t matter — if either side can do just a little better because of a symbiosis, it makes sense to partner up.

After Superstorm Sandy, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Democrat President Obama forgot election-year politics and met in the aisle to ensure a better flow of federal disaster aid to the Jersey shore. After the Boston Marathon bombings, New York Yankees fans left behind their fierce distaste for the Red Sox and sang their seventh-inning anthem “Sweet Caroline” in Yankee Stadium. A movement gesture warmly welcomed by Bostonians. Palestinian, and Jordanian health officials worked together to successfully stop the spread of infectious diseases in the Middle East.

At the end of the day are we collectively getting better? My college football coach also said the first practice after every game, win or lose, “if we are not getting better (moving forward) we are getting worse (moving backwards).” Can we get better when we work almost 100% against the other side? This is ‘scarcity mentality’ at its best – if I don’t win, I lose. We need people, concerned citizens, to meet in the aisle.

The New Testament letter 1 Peter 3:8-9 says, “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.” This letter is encouraging Christian communities to remain faithful to the Christian life despite living in a hostile, secular environment. Paul asks similar things in his letter to the Philippians (2:3-4), “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others.”

Meeting in the aisle is the being of ‘one mind’ based on love, compassion and humility; the act of regarding others as more important than yourself. It means being courageous enough to move our minds and hearts out of our comfort zone, seeking to understand.

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