By Conference Minister Diane Weible
I remember a conversation I had with two friends when I lived in Japan.
I was telling them about a seminar I had attended that spoke about the differences in communication between those who live in the United States and those who live in Japan. The seminar said that in the United States we like to communicate like a tennis match. We choose a topic and serve ideas back and forth, reacting to what the other person shared.
In Japan, however, conversations are more like bowling. Each person takes their turn and that turn is not related to the person who bowled ahead of them. Ideas shared are not related or meant to “undo” or contradict what another person shared.
My friends listened to what I said and politely, disagreed. “That’s not true. In Japan, we love to argue and discuss a topic, not always agreeing. We just do this with topics that really don’t have a lot of meaning in our life.” I asked for an example of what kind of conversation topic to which this would apply. “Well, for example, prejudice,” was their reply.
“You don’t think there is prejudice in Japan?” “Well, no,” they said. “In Japan, we don’t have many black or white people so there is no prejudice.”
I didn’t play tennis with them that day and, to this day, I wish I had.
I believe we all have a responsibility to examine within ourselves our beliefs, our motivations, and our understandings about the world around us. If someone really believes that prejudice is a binary—black and white—and if we have no black people (or white people) in our lives then prejudice is not something that is relevant to us but more an exercise in social location, then the work that person will need to do in their own life will look very different than the work I need to do as I have come to understand some (but not all) of the racism, discrimination, and prejudice that is around me.
Although the work each one of us needs to do may look different for each person, it does not deny that there is much work to be done. Lately, I have heard from several of my siblings of color that the time of education and learning is over, and we need to act to make a change. I agree with that. And, for those of us who have been swimming in the waters of racism for long before we were even born without understanding just how polluted the water is, we have even more work to do. We must learn AND we must act. In order to show up authentically, we have to do the work to understand. We can’t ask our siblings of color to teach us one more time or understand for us. What we can do is take the initiative to jump into the work ourselves.
Yes, I wish I had played a little tennis that day with my friends because I probably would’ve taken away just as much learning and understanding as I would’ve hoped that our conversation would have yielded for them. If, after all these years, I can still remember that conversation as if it was yesterday, it tells me that my silence and non-response at that moment was a missed opportunity—for them, maybe; for me, definitely.
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