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Mindful : June 2016
Conversations in Oxford have been intense and sometimes tearful, with members confessing to cracks in their own righteous self-images. The town, once dubbed the “Vatican City of Southern Letters,” claims William Faulkner as its own and hosts two annual literary confer- ences. Visitors orient by The Square, a court- house roundabout lined with boutiques and independent bookstores. Unemployment is low. School test scores are high. Unlike Calhoun County, there’s no private segregation academy. Still, Oxford’s legacy of racial conflict runs deep. It’s hard to separate the university from the fatal mob violence that broke out when James Meredith, under court order and federal protection, enrolled as a student in 1962. For all the progress since then, there are still setbacks: white students shouting racial slurs after Pres- ident Obama’s reelection; vandals tying a noose around a bronze Meredith statue. African Amer- icans remain underrepresented at the university and often feel unwelcome on The Square. Welcome Table conversations in Oxford have been intense and sometimes tearful, with members confessing to cracks in their own righteous self-images. When a white woman shared a childhood recollection of roughing up an African-American girl, Cole dug up a similar memory. In it, he and about a dozen teenaged friends physically attacked a white boy who had wandered into their segregated neighborhood. “It was a perfect opportunity to pay society back with this one individual,” says Cole, who met eyes with the victim and, at 66, remains haunted by that gaze. “Nobody seemed to ask the ques- tion of what wrong had he done. The wrong was simply being white.” Cole calls it a “buried moment,” one he has never discussed with those friends. But the woman’s story moved him to resurrect it. “ It was her boldness to naked herself in this one v ulnera- ble area, in which she told my story in a different context,” he says. “It made me feel the need to clothe her by telling her story in my context.” In that crucible of “nakeding,” personal transformation begins. Elizabeth Paine, a white Oxford member and former congressional → Set aside your judgments. By creating a space between judgments and reactions, we can listen to the other, and to ourselves, more fully, and thus our perspectives, deci- sions, and actions are more informed. Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they under-gird our worldview and thus our decisions and our actions. By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our view- points to greater possibilities. Silence is a rare gift in our busy world. After you or some- one else has spoken, take time to reflect, without immediately filling the space with words. Look inward and listen to yourself in the silence. Say what is in your hear t, trusting that your voice will be heard and your contribution respected. Your truth may be different from, even the oppo- site of, what another in the circle has said. Speaking your truth is not debating with, or correcting, or interpreting what another has said. Own your truth by speaking for yourself, using “I” statements. If you find yourself disagree- ing with another, becoming judgmental, shutting down in defense, try turning to won- der: “I wonder what brought her to this place?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” Create a safe space by respecting the confiden- tial nature and content of discussions held in the circle. What is said in the circle stays here; what is learned in the circle leaves here. Everyone gets to tell their own story for themselves. In the circle, all voices are valued equally. All gifts are welcomed and respected. Within each circle is the gene- sis of renewal and community well-being. The circle can be the instrument for creating a new community narrative for the sake of our children and grandchildren. 4 7 8 9 5 6 Suspend judgment and assumptions and seek understanding Speak your truth and respect the truth of others Maintain confidentiality Respect silence When things get difficult, turn to wonder Trust the circle June 2016 mindful 61