Updated: May 17, 2019
A story told two years ago by one of Narativ's co-founders Paul Browde, MD.
"Last night on arriving at a restaurant in Manhattan with friends, an altercation was happening on the sidewalk. A white man, puffing out his chest pointed his finger into the face of an older black man. "Come on, I'm ready, come on, just try and hit me ". The black man trying not to make eye contact said "okay man, it's okay". Turns out the white man was the manager of the restaurant. On learning this, I asked my friends to leave and we did. I told the manager that I did not want to eat in his restaurant because of his aggression. He defended himself saying "He's a homeless man, and he was harassing our customers. He wouldn't leave." I said that I understood his concern, but that he has to find other ways of dealing with situations besides aggression and violence. The homeless man was probably hungry and it may have taken an offer of food to have him leave.
It's possible that this incident could have happened a week ago too. But after the presidential election and Donald Trump's vitriolic rhetoric, I sense a new feeling in the air. It appears that there is the growing license for people to be aggressive, attacking, racist, and demeaning to others, with a sense of sanction or even approval from the top. This means that all of us who care, who don't want to live in a world in which marginalized people are brutalized, will have to develop a new muscle. By this I mean the muscle to speak up, to say something, to express our outrage, to leave restaurants and to let aggressive people know that they have been noticed.
I first witnessed this muscle used growing up in apartheid South Africa. My mother hitting a police officer with an umbrella as he arrested a black woman sitting on the sidewalk on a Sunday afternoon for not carrying her passbook. My older brother making me leave a restaurant mid-meal, when the manager hit a hungry homeless man who had wandered in, with a stick on the back of his legs....my father stepping in and stopping a tough talking white man from beating up a young black boy whom he accused of shoplifting. When the man threatened to hit my dad, I remember my father saying "go on, hit me, I hope you do, and I will bring a law suit against you, I am a lawyer and I will show you how the law works."
Paul Browde MD
It seems Paul's feeling of the growing license for people to be aggressive to one another has expanded to our streets and cities. In the past two years, continuous news of terrorist bombs and knife and gun crimes are testament to that license he talks about. In the past two years it does seems as though those people with strong feelings are now free again to act aggressively against those they don't like or agree with and we seem to be experiencing these feelings of discord on a global level.
In contrast, over the Easter weekend, thousands took to the streets in London to peacefully protest the lack of government action in preventing climate change. It took the words of sixteen year old Greta Thunberg to shame MP's into listening to her story and let's hope they will pledge to make a change to change the story. But are the stories cyclical? Will the young people save the planet only to have their children witness more hate and destruction in their temples and churches?
We must learn to keep telling the stories lest we forget. The good and the bad stories that will teach future generations about hate and love and possibly, saving Planet Earth.
The next Narativ Storytelling and Listening Workshop is on June 19th 2019 in London.
Tickets and details HERE.