Monday, December 1, 2014

Watching St. Louis fall to peaces [Because meaning]

Image: STL-Style
"Peace for St. Louis."

The visual that comes to mind is that of a life raft. Everything seems to be going under, but there's this ring of "peace" and everyone's grasping onto it amidst the debris. The one thing everyone can agree on. The sentiment it seems most everyone can get behind. The common ground we so desperately need.

"Praying for peace."

While initially it felt like a solid, unifying message, I soon found myself feeling a little sad every time I heard a word with the root "peace" float out into the ether. It started to feel empty. "I don't know what else to say, what other words to use, so here. How's this one? It's got a long, storied history. A warm fuzzy one, even. And it won't piss anyone off."

Then I realized that in some corners it was being used - and in other corners heard - as a directive. Code for "don't do the opposite of peace. Your city is counting on you, behave."

"I know St. Louis will handle this peacefully."

Then today, as I watched/overheard/texted about the 180th round of "violence isn't the answer/it was a peaceful protest/get off my lawn" it hit me: the wedge is so wide, the damage so deep, that most words fail. We are so wounded, so on edge, so passion filled, so sad, that even a sentiment of the most empathetic intent can get hijacked by words. But more accurately by pain. It's really just that the words are no match for the pain.

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more rioting and looting

"Peace for St. Louis" -  No more hate-filled comments sections

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more blood on the streets

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more teargassed churches

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more chanting mobs

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more illegally operating courts

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more tough conversations

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more passive acceptance

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more blaming the system

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more fighting authority

"Peace for St. Louis" - No more interrupting my normal

"Peace for St. Louis" - Justice

"Peace for St. Louis" - Acceptance

I could go on, but you get the point. Everyone does not want the same thing. Everyone's version of peace is not the same. Everyone's version of peace, to someone else, is scary, offensive, inconvenient, hard.

Words are a vehicle between intent and impact. The impact of our actions - all of our actions - has been exacerbated over the past three months and has made the wedges between us ever wide. So wide that we mostly cannot hear the sound of the disconnect from one end to the other, only the words in between.

I don't have any answers. But I know that I am watching words fly and seeing them land as fuel on the fire when they were meant as a salve. Watching people hurt each other when the intent is to help. Watching people so crushed by the many things brought out into the daylight over the past few months that they have no words left. Hearing the absence of words speak louder than the best crafted sentence.

So many of the expanded definitions of the word "peace" are about the absence of discord. The agreement to stop conflict - not necessarily resolve it. There is much discord in St. Louis. There is much conflict. It is complex, it is deep, it is raw, it is personal and it is not going back into the box. We've said too many things and made too many moves. I don't think any of us want to go back to before, because going back to before means the possibility of ending up here again. And before sounds a lot like a series of co-existining versions of individual peace.

So where to? I don't know. But wherever it is, we've got to work together to decide it, envision it, articulate it on purpose and with collective intent. I don't care what we call it, but we've got to lay that plan out together. Otherwise, we fail before we start.

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