The learning of two different cultures

by Joan Chittister

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We talk a lot about listening to the ideas of people whose life situations are different than ours but, in truth, it's often a very difficult thing to do. We all live in little self-funded modern ghettoes where the people in our neighborhoods are just like us.

We mix with our kind of people, wear the same kind of clothes, work in the same kinds of places, do the same kind of things, have the same kind of educational background, and talk about the same subjects. And why not? After all, if truth were known, we seldom find ourselves in anybody else's neighborhood. And so we seldom if ever find ourselves in a situation where we can learn what the rest of the world has to teach us.

So, we bloom where we are planted. We travel in predictable patterns. We seldom mix with cultures not our own. Which is why last week was a special gift for me.

I was having breakfast with an African-American mother whose oldest child, her son, had been murdered in an outburst of gunfire that has become so common in a society now armed to the teeth.

The trial will begin in May -- probably a short one because there is so little mystery about it. It was simply a long night in a bar that ended in a short argument and death. What was unusual was the mother herself. "I don't judge," she said. "God will have to do that." Then, after a bit of silence, "I just tell my family that we bear the loss but the other family will have to bear the shame. And that will be even harder."

"What's the answer to all this?" I said. And she said simply what I did not expect to hear: "Jobs," she said. "Jobs. They have to have jobs to go to instead of the bars and the corners."

Later that day, I caught a television clip of Hillary Clinton speaking to an election rally somewhere in the East. "We need to repair our infrastructure." she said. "Our bridges are deteriorating, and our roads are full of potholes, both of which raise the prices people have to pay to have the foods and goods they need delivered."

Suddenly, those two seemingly different cultures came together. The country needs its roads repaired to make it cheaper to transport goods from one side of the country to the other. And, at the same time, the young people in this country need jobs. What if one were used to solve the other?

My suggestion: Resurrect the public works projects of the Roosevelt era that employed a significant proportion of young people during the Great Depression of 1929-1940. You know, produce a few less cruise missiles or stealth bombers or overcrowded prisons to pay for it. Then, with that savings, institute a one- or two-year public service program for high school graduates. That would teach them a skill, get them off street corners, and go a long way to redeem a country that is becoming badly down at its heels.

From where I stand it looks as if something like this could revive a sense of patriotism in all of us. It would indeed "make America great again" rather than turn us into raging demagogues. We might even get new "respect" from other nations that Donald Trump says we so greatly lack now. One thing for sure: rattling our swords like flailing giants in the world isn't going to do it.

Imagine. We could be "great" again rather than simply loud and bellicose, narcissistic and arrogant, self-centered and intimidating -- American Americans rather than Ugly Americans.

[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor.]

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