“We have so little of each other now, so far from tribe and fire”

Several recent shootings in Burlington are reported to have begun during group gatherings. People enjoying a party in a home, or just hanging out by the river. Whatever the occasion or location, there were a number of people present in addition to the people shooting and being shot.

I’ve heard many asking, “What can be done?” Well, for starters, how about more of us taking responsibility for the groups where we are? When you see an argument beginning to escalate, how about stepping in to de-fuse the situation? One person acting as peacemaker can often change the temperature of an entire scene. And if one person can have such a powerful impact, the concentrated efforts of the whole group working to de-escalate an argument almost always works to lower tensions and reduce the potential for violence. The group can adopt the value that disagreements are to be expected, but that arguments do not have to escalate into violence. The group explicitly adopts a group value that says, “we don’t shoot each other.” Most of the members of a group will change their behavior. Those that refuse are not invited to the next parties.

Today I came across this meditation by Danusha Lameris, from her book “The Moons of August.” It speaks to me so strongly about the value of simple courtesies.

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

― Danusha Laméris, The Moons of August

Almost all of us are a long way from our ancestral council fires; most of the people surrounding us are not as closely related to us as the tribes of our origin. We live and work and socialize next to people from a variety of homelands and cultures. Out of the jumble of diverse neighbors, we cobble together our own tribes. No longer expressly given us by birth, we now choose who will be invited around the campfires of our inner circles. Our circles will come into contact with other circles holding different group values. Sometimes, the coming together will generate friction. It almost never needs to lead to violence unless we allow violence to be acceptable.
Why not adopt the intention to create “fleeting temples” of hospitality, a “true dwellings for the holy” as a Burlington town value?

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