It is frustrating to watch the national conversation on race relations devolve into empty rhetoric and self-righteous chest pounding. Yet again, it seems that nobody is really listening to anybody. It is hard to have a conversation when everyone is shouting.
Part of my personal commitment this week, as the national conversation gets pushed and pulled by various voices, has been to do something to impact the local conversation on racial relations. Few of us have a national platform from which we can guide the national conversation. However, each and every one of us has a local sphere of influence which we can, and should, use to impact the local conversation.
Here are three simple suggestions I would offer to practically and personally impact the local conversation.
- Intentionally schedule and eat a meal with someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours. No agenda and no pressure, simply take time to engage personally and intentionally with them. Ask them to share some of their favorite stories from their family or neighborhood. Do your best to listen more than you talk during this meal. And don’t forget to pick up the tab!
- Perform a “random act of kindness” for someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours. Pay for the meal of a family at a restaurant, or bring a bottle of cold water to the guys cutting the grass in the medians in town, or offer to roll the grocery cart to the corral for someone in the parking lot. Any small act can have an inordinate impact when it is unexpected by the recipient. As my friend Nathan Crietz pointed out, “Being a good neighbor in a world where people are not good neighbors is a powerful witness.”
- Take notice of the positive contribution of someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours and verbally express your appreciation to them. The writer of proverbs states, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11). A simple, “I noticed you holding the door for that elderly gentleman. Thank you for caring for others!” can serve to strengthen their resolve to continue making a positive contribution. Furthermore, the fact that someone who is “different” noticed their actions is a powerful neutralizer of divisive rhetoric.
So while the nation rages, be a local instrument of peace. Amid the storm of words claiming “nothing has changed,” be the calm evidence that something is, in fact, different.