It’s like watching a wad of Silly Putty be pulled apart, witnessing our political divisions deepen. As we slowly separate, our middle wears thin.
The current state of political discourse has the far right doubling down on bias-motivated rhetoric and the far left more aggressively seeking to identify and fight injustice. It leaves the space between fraught with tension.
I’m watching this play out from a place clearly left of center, and worrying that it’s only a matter of time before we split completely with a silent wisp.
I caught a glimpse of what I saw as the Silly Putty getting stretched in the conversation about the impact race played on Salt Lake City’s recent mayoral election. In reaction, I wrote a Facebook post hoping to inspire what I thought would be a more nuanced dialogue.
I was compelled by the idea that any time we try to reduce complex social phenomena to any single cause, in this case race, we do ourselves a disservice in finding solutions to fix what are often complicated systemic problems and/or we miss the chance to celebrate certain victories.
But shortly after posting, something awesome, albeit uncomfortable, happened. I was respectfully and firmly urged by a friend in a private message to reconsider my position.
Now, you may be curious about the particulars. What was my argument? With what was she disagreeing? What do we think about race and the mayoral election? But it’s not those details that have inspired this column.
She let me know that she felt like my claim lacked context, she pointed me in the direction of a place I could find deeper understanding, and she let me know that what I had missed caused her pain.
*Tire screech followed by the smell of hot rubber*
How could I not be halted in my tracks?
I immediately retraced my steps, sought additional perspectives, and realized that even in my pursuit of greater thoughtfulness, I had missed some details that would have shaped my perception of the issue.
I lacked nuance in an assertion about nuance. Cool, cool. Thanks, privilege, for serving up a side of hypocrisy with my dinner.
Heat radiated from my cheeks as I deleted the post, and I sat (where I continue to sit) in an amount of discomfort that I’m not as “woke” as I wish I were.
As minutes, hours and days have passed, much of my embarrassment and disappointment in myself has metabolized, though, into gratitude and perseverance.
I’m deeply grateful because I got called in, as opposed to getting called out. Despite being pained, and then being additionally discouraged by my post, my friend didn’t address me unproductively (an act I’ve unfortunately engaged in from time to time). Even though my view was shallower, she didn’t assume I’m too shallow to reconsider it.
What a generous gift.
She made space for my imperfect engagement. Which is why I am also feeling perseverant.
I’m a person deeply committed to generating empathy and hope, and I assume most of us want to view ourselves that way. But none of us can fully understand the reality of another’s existence, a truth that leaves us well-intended but incapable of perfect advocacy.
In processing my experience with me, another friend suggested that “wokeness” isn’t a state of being, it’s an aspiration — like transcendence. It’s the thing we always work toward.
Admittedly, it was easier to think I was “woke” than to accept the reality that (as long as I keep trying) I will always be awakening — that with every rub of my morning eyes, I’ll see the world more clearly.
So, I’m wondering if the state of awakening is actually where the majority of our metaphorical putty wad (which will obviously be my next band name) resides. It’s those of us who are not completely certain of everything but always wanting to connect better. It’s those of us stretching, calling each other in and being willing to reconsider. It’s those of us determined to stick together.
Comfortable or not, that’s a place in the putty wad I can proudly call home.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.