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Sunday notes: on compassion, dialogue, and race

Friday’s TED Radio Hour focused on the theme of compassion. The first segment on the show began with CNN columnist and commentator Sally Kohn reading offensive tweets she has received recently. She went on to say:

“It’s like that uncle you might disagree with at the holidays… You might argue politics, but you still love him… You would never say the things to your uncle in person that people say to complete strangers on Twitter… We have to figure out a way to re-learn compassion, and that is ultimately being able to appreciate and validate someone else’s experience, even if it isn’t our own.”

Her segment of the show is embedded below. The full episode is online here.

Earlier this week, Brainpickings featured a longish read by Maria Popova, Legendary Physicist David Bohm on the Paradox of Communication, the Crucial Difference Between Discussion and Dialogue, and What Is Keeping Us from Listening to One Another . In the post, Popova explored Bohm’s On Dialogue.  Although this book was written in 1976, it concerns communication breakdown that we see all too clearly in America forty years later:

“Different groups … are not actually able to listen to each other. As a result, the very attempt to improve communication leads frequently to yet more confusion, and the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.”

Popova also highlighted Bohm’s comments that distinguished discussion from dialogue. The latter, she quoted,

” ‘Dialogue’ comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ‘the word,’ or in our case we would think of the “meaning of the word.” And dia means ‘through’ — it doesn’t mean ‘two.’ A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. …The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.

One of the topics Americans have the hardest time talking about is race. Popova’s post also referenced the 1970 dialogue between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead that eventually was published under the title A Rap on Race. (There is a whole series of Brainpickings posts on this subject, which you can read here.)

On a related note, today’s New York Times Sunday Review includes an opinion piece by Demos president Heather C. McGhee, ‘I’m Prejudiced,’ He Said. Then We Kept Talking.

In her piece, she mentioned that Demos is participating in the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) program, was launched by The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) and 130 partner organizations this week. The press release announcing the new initiative stated,

“WKKF believes the stage is set for this pioneering enterprise. The repeated police and civilian killings of unarmed people of color, well-documented bias within our education, health, civic   and justice systems, and escalating divisive rhetoric over religious and ethnic intolerance and immigration policies have created an environment where race and ethnicity are driving our national discourse and fueling anxiety and fear in our communities.”

TRHT will draw on truth and reconciliation models used in other countries around the world. Northeastern University School of Journalism released a report in conjunction with the TRHT launch, Meta-Analysis of Recent Polling Data on the Impact of Racism on American Society Today. The first event of the TRHT multi-year program will be a  National Day of Healing on January 17, 2017.



Where Is Rural Massachusetts?


Most of the people in Massachusetts live in densely-populated areas, particularly in and around Boston. The state’s other major densely-populated communities can be found the Worcester area in the center of the state, and in and around Springfield and Pittsfield in the west.  Because so many people live in these places, it is not always obvious that 170 towns in the Commonwealth – 48% of the total municipalities – are rural, with under 500 people per square mile.

There are many wonderful things about rural life in Massachusetts. There also are many challenges involved with governing and providing services in these communities. I will explore these topics in future blog posts.

For today’s post, I created the map above to answer this basic question: “Where is rural Massachusetts?”

The map shows that rural communities are spread across the state. Each pin on the map represents a rural town, and the pins are color coded by population density. The swath of dark blue pins in the western and central part of the state have under 100 people per square mile. A few of these particularly rural towns also can be found on the Cape and Islands. Lighter blue and green pins represent rural towns with higher population densities. You can zoom in and access the data I used to create the map by clicking this link.


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