Just a Thought: September 30, 2015
No place — neighborhood or nation — is perfect.
I bike to our downtown office through a neighborhood where shots rang out this summer.
One recent morning shimmered with September perfection. Sunrise had ushered the exceptional blue of late summer into the theatre of the sky. Slanty light glinted off gold-tipped tuliptrees.
To the trees, there are no bad neighborhoods.
On one front stoop sat a man and his little son: the son chatting away, the man listening and smiling. Only listening, in fact, in the distraction-free way made rare by proliferating smartphones.
The dad beamed, his countenance rivaling the sun's radiated light. He waved as I coasted down the block, past old houses divided into apartments, shadows of their formerly stately selves now inhabited by tenants too transient or hand-to-mouth to repair siding, or working too many jobs to worry about weeding.
I'm generalizing. I know. There are as many explanations for the way things are as there are people. But that's the point we risk missing when we label neighborhoods — or countries, or ethnicities — "bad."
For every deadbeat dad, there's one surrendering his morning to a chatty child. For every teenager corralled into the penal system, there's one exemplifying excellence. For every fallen family, there's one epitomizing the unconditional support that has sustained humanity for thousands of years.
If every life matters, then the way we talk about every life matters, too. But how does it feel to be from a "bad" place? If places are made up of people, does that make you bad?
The other day, I set out for a pre-dawn walk through my neighborhood: nothing fancy, but homes are owned and cared for. Outdoor lighting is more decoration than security. Safety is expected.
I owe my life here to a set of circumstances, including the inherited privilege of my race in this confusing — but mostly civil — nation. I didn't work harder than all who hail from "bad" neighborhoods (or war-torn regions, or impoverished countries). I don't deserve peace more than they do.
Meanwhile, in that "bad" neighborhood, I often see neighbors talking on porches, laughing on sidewalks. It's jubilantly cacophonous, compared to my neighborhood. Here, people keep to themselves.
Quintessential neighbor Fred Rogers said "Peace means far more than the opposite of war." No place — neighborhood or nation — is perfect. And if we stopped labeling each other, we might actually start learning from each other.