an interpretation at the heart of our divide

Earlier this week, a respected friend and I engaged in one of our many, excellent exchanges. We don’t always approach things from the same angle, but the way we talk issues — with logic and respect — allows us to actually, interactively talk about them.

Elliot and I are both concerned about the current “national divide.” He would tell you he’s been concerned for some time, believing the divide has long existed but has risen to the forefront these past three years. In fact, significant childhood moments shed light on his initial awareness…

At only eight years old, growing up in Miami, there were two, distinct water fountains at the supermarket. Which one a person was to utilize was determined by the color of their skin.

In high school in ’68, a young black friend asked a white young lady to Homecoming. The couple received actual death threats! Elliot was outraged, and ended up double-dating with the pair in a sweet show of solidarity.

From an early age, through varied circumstances, we’ve been subtly and not so subtly encouraged to see people as different, based upon far more than skin color.

With that perspective — and as ones who wish to mend as opposed to fuel any divide — Elliot humbly shares the following with us. I find it wise to think through and resist focusing on another, but wrestle with what’s inside of self…

“This is an interesting exercise. Allow me to share with you a simple parable. After reading it, I encourage each of you to stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and interpret the meaning…

The forest was shrinking

but the trees kept voting for the axe. 

For the axe was clever and convinced the trees

that because his handle was wood, he was one of them…’

What’s your interpretation? In other words…

  1. Who are the axes?
  2. Who are the trees?
  3. Does your tribal inclination (Left vs. Right) have anything to do with how you perceive this?

I cannot imagine each of your answers to the first two questions. But I can surmise that everyone answered question #3 affirmatively.

This, I believe, is at the very heart of our national divide.

Many questions emerge from this parable… Why is the forest shrinking? Is it the fact that axes are used to chop down trees the reason? Is a shrinking forest bad or good? Can the chopping down of trees actually be healthy for the forest of the future? Will the shrinking of the forest make handles more expensive and reduce the number of axes made?

The answer to these questions and more may depend not only on the precise words but on what you understand the words to mean.”

I appreciate the self-reflection. I appreciate wrestling with my own interpretation. Note that I also asked Elliot what more we could do to help mend this divide. He minced no words. “Get off social media and talk to each other in person.”

Talk to each other. Remember: the way we talk matters.


AR… and Elliot