Relationship is the force that heals division

It was late afternoon on the day of the insurrection at our Nation’s Capital, and I was surprised to hear that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative event was to go on as planned. Our organization holds events ourselves, and in a year of so many cancellations and disappointments, I didn’t envy anyone who had to make that kind of decision on that day. Our democracy was under direct and violent attack, and our country’s divisions were boiling over into loss of life, fear, and hatred. I can imagine that it felt like there was no good choice to be made about the now online event in that horrific moment.

I had a choice to make too, albeit a small one. Would I attend or not? That was a relatively easy decision for me, mostly because if given the option to be in relationship with people who matter to me, that is the choice I will make. Even after a long day that left me feeling Zoomed out, I never really considered skipping it.

To be clear, I wasn’t joining the event because I expected to hear anything that would help me feel any better about the day or what lies ahead for this country. I was simply going to be there because many of our staff, board members, and partners would be attending as well, and because I believe in the transformative power of those relationships.

But once I was logged on and listening, I began to feel a deep tension. How did it make sense to go about my business when our democracy was under attack? What responsibility did I have to lift up my voice in that moment? Just as these feelings were starting to take hold, our hosts shared a video telling the story of our Project Clean Air Repairs – yes, Project CAR. It’s a beautiful and uplifting story about what can be accomplished for people and for our planet when we work together across difference, and it’s a story about the braiding of work for social justice and environmental health. I could not be more pleased to be associated with this work, and here it was being shared with a massive online audience.

Environmental Initiative’s communications team did their job well by asking me to tweet about the video and the event, and that’s what caused me to freeze up. What could I possibly say to celebrate something wonderful – admittedly in promotion of our own work – in a moment of violence and fear? And how could I choose to say nothing? If I tweeted something about the insurrection, would it sour the event for others and would it disrespect the important work of Project CAR? If I tweeted without acknowledging the insurrection and the division that drove it, how could I live with that?

I did end up tweeting, although it took me a good half hour to figure out what to say. What exactly I tweeted didn’t matter – no one was really looking for my tweet in that moment anyway – but what I decided was to both acknowledge the violence and division and to lift up this partnership between government, business and community as an alternative. That’s what felt real for me. That’s what felt essential. It’s what I felt compelled to contribute.

It’s been weeks since that moment, and you can see that it still affects me. Not just the violence and division, but the choices I was offered that day, and how I struggled to see what I should do to both acknowledge the pain and suffering that afflicts this country and to put my voice behind something I believe has the power to heal.

I’ve written a lot this past year about the divisions that threaten the health and well-being of all people and that fuel the destruction of our planet. I embrace the idea that at the heart of these dangerous times are worldviews, politics, and systems that divide us from each other and from our fellow living beings. The divisions with the most destructive power in our country right now are played off differences of race, gender, generation ,and rural-urban identity. There are no easy ways out of this moment for us, but I believe fervently that healing and prosperity can only come through embrace of relationship and interdependence. On the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, I hold fast to his exhortation that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We are all connected and there is a powerful hope in that reality. I will keep showing up for relationship, for interdependence, and for justice in the days ahead, in small ways and in bigger ones, and I hope that you will do the same.

In relationship,

Mike Harley