When we talk of walls we think brick and mortar. But many walls are invisible but no less effective in excluding people. There is such a wall around the City of San Francisco. I don’t think it has been built intentionally, but it keeps people out of our city nonetheless. It has been built, perhaps unintentionally, by the very people who champion “inclusion.”
In fact, we have two walls, and outer and an inner defense against undesirables. The first wall is economic, firmly anchored by housing prices and the overall cost of living. Only the wealthy can afford to live in San Francisco. I have seen families move into our neighborhood (which is far from the most expensive) only to discover that they cannot really afford to live with us. They are pushed back out. We are sad to see these families leave.
The second wall is political, firmly anchored by ideological intolerance. Many single people, who can afford a small apartment here, discover that only the politically left-leaning are welcome in our city. Any talk of “religion” or “natural law” at work or school is not tolerated. At work they sooner or later get a termination notice with a significant severance package. At school they are bullied and harassed. They are pushed out, and we are sad to see them leave. They take their diversity with them. We are becoming a conformist monoculture.
If we are to be credible in the discussions about border walls, we who live in America’s wealthiest cities must face our own walls. As I say, the walls we build are largely unconscious and unintended. But we can be more inclusive, even in San Francisco and Boston and New York. We can begin by simply greeting each other. I’ve decided to say “good morning” or “how are you doing” to people I pass on the street. I can’t greet all of them, of course, but I want to connect with at least some of my fellow travelers. Three or four a day will do. And if I am seated in a restaurant close to others (in San Francisco’s crowded eateries you get stuffed almost on top of strangers’ laps) I want to greet them with a smile. We are, after all, fellow human beings. It’s not easy to keep this up, but I am delighted to see how most of the folks I greet return my smile.
The next step in taking down walls is to listen rather than react to someone with a divergent perspective. Listening with the heart, seeing the image of God in someone with whom we disagree, brings marvelous understanding. There’s a whole lot of judgment going on in my city right now, from contentions on the Board of Supervisors to rainbow banners with angry slogans to just plain old grumbling about “those others.” Listen first with the heart and then with the head. The head will understand if the heart first sees the goodness in my brother or sister.
So let’s start with greeting others with a smile. Let’s try to listen with heart and mind to others, and the walls will begin to open up.