I sit down with hundreds of individuals throughout the year. Sometimes it's a business transaction, but other times it's an eye-opening conversation. Like I described last week, some people are especially gifted at discussing the deeper things, and that often means hard topics.
"Do your clients ever try to ask you about politics?" I hesitated before answering a new client of mine. I've been around long enough to know when I'm on the precipice of a volatile conversation, but this didn't feel like one of those.
I was in the home of an older gentleman, who was now retired but still active in speaking and writing. He was a film critic at one point, a university president, and was even writing a book on Western movies. He was smart, thoughtful, and had decades of life experience to draw from. He was fascinating, to say the least.
As he stepped out of his living room earlier in the appointment I scanned his bookshelf, as I often do in a situation where I know little about a person or their interests. What I saw immediately caught my attention. I quickly gathered Abraham Lincoln was likely his hero and he was very passionate about civil rights.
I would like to also point out I was sitting in Montgomery, Alabama. It doesn't take a historian to know the horrors of racism and segregation committed in our own state. The sad reality, too, is that many older (white) people still carry the ideological baggage of a mindset that needed to die a long time ago. It was refreshing to see an elderly, white man so engaged with a non-antiquated idea of equality.
The conversation shifted toward religion and the church. He told me as a young man he wanted to become a pastor. He never pursued it, though, because of his church's support of segregation. He was uninterested in being a part of something that went against his convictions.
That was the 1960's, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham would describe 11am on Sunday as the most segregated hour of the week. We've come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement, but our current context always begs the question--how can we make progress?
Every generation sheds some ignorance of the previous generation, I heard someone say once. I do wonder what books will sit on the shelves of those who pioneer change in our generation decades from now. Who will my Abraham Lincoln be? What will my Civil Rights Movement be?
I imagine a similar conversation as the one I had with my client when I am in my seventies, and a young man is sitting across from me. Will he sit there and admire the courage I had to affect change or shake his head at the ignorance that survived into my last years, much like I do when I still hear words like "colored" or "the blacks."
My hope and prayer is for eyes to see the blindspots and ignorance in my own life, to pass less baggage on to the next generation, to not only grow old but to grow in wisdom and love, continuing to ask the question--how can we make progress?