Friday, January 21, 2011

It was, I suppose, a mean question . . .

. . . but it wasn't meant to be. I was on DU's Driscoll Bridge this week inviting passers-by to share their dream for social justice. Folks were given the opportunity to write, or draw, their dream on a piece of paper (with a dream "bubble"). We then posted the collection on the Bridge (temporarily) for others to see.* A recording of Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech played in the background.

As is often the case for those of us who "table" on the Bridge, we have to "hawk our wares"-or extend an invitation-to get the attention of the folks walking by. So the question I frequently asked was "Do you have a dream for social justice?" Sometimes people would stop, ask for more information, and record their dream. Sometimes people would walk by, either NOT hearing, or PRETENDING not to hear. And I understand! I do the same thing when I'm focused on getting to my next meeting, or not wanting to engage someone selling knives that cut through tin cans.

What struck me, however, were some of the answers that I got from people who didn't stop, but who did respond verbally. (And, again, I'm NOT trying to be critical or judgmental!) In no reflection of frequency:

"I'm late to class (or a meeting)."

"I've got a dream, but I don't have time to write it down."

"I'll think about it."

"No, thanks." [Note: It's not as if I were selling something!]

"I'll do it on my way back." [Note: A few did!]

And my personal favorite:

"I'm good."

Folks cross the Driscoll Bridge many times a day, and have to deal with the tablers all of the time. I suspect that a lot of the answers were stock replies, a verbal response to a verbal cue, having nothing to do with the content of the question asked.

What provoked my reflective response, however, were two things. First were the people who genuinely stopped, thought for a moment, and couldn't identify an issue of social justice about which they were concerned; they frequently said "I'll think about it" before moving on. I would reply "Great! Thanks!" Second was the "passing by" of so many folks, hearing my question, but not responding. I had to take a step back and look at my reflection.

In my work-a-day world, how often do I think of issues beyond the boundaries of my desk, my skin, or that of my family? Hearing the question, "Do you have a dream for social justice?" might just stop me short, tongue-tied, and a bit chagrined that I didn't have a good answer. I may have even resented the question. Similarly, how often do I walk past an apparent need, or opportunity to serve, simply because I don't want to get involved, or I can't SEE what's right in front of me.

Last Monday, I was on a bike trail in Cherry Creek State Park. A fellow cyclist was walking his bike towards me. I stopped and asked if he needed help. He did -- he'd had two flats (thereby using his one spare tube). I swapped my good spare for his punctured one, and let him use my pump so he could get on his way (he would have had a five mile walk -- not comfortable in bike shoes!). There is a sort of "code" among cyclists that you at least offer help to someone stopped. I was simply observing the code -- paying it forward, I suppose one might now say.

That cyclist's code is nothing less than general codes of care for the other. So many of our traditions suggest that we de-center our concerns in favor of those in need. Stopping to help a fellow cyclist was not social justice, but given the coincidence of that occurrence with my experience of tabling, I want to keep my eyes/ears a little more open to opportunities to do something. And after which I've done that something, I could honestly say, "I'm good."



*It is my hope to put the "dreams" in some sort of digital format for sharing. The responses were fantastic!


  1. I thank you for these reflections since I spend a fair amount of time considering the actions and thoughts behind others' behaviors. Then I try to imagine the stresses that I am not privy to. This puts it all in perspective for me and takes any kind of judgment out of the equation. I am guilty of responding "I'm good" and will try to engage more often.

  2. I think this may be a good area for those of us who didn't stop, or usually do not cross Driscoll Bridge in my case, to leave our dreams for social justice. I am currently in a wrongful conviction class, and its had seriously impacted the way I currently see social justice in America. The statistics are outstanding. Most wrongful conviction happen to those who cannot afford their own lawyer. In many cases, even today, race plays a huge role in your likelihood to be wrongfully convicted. I just wish we could have a system that gave everyone an equal chance. You know something is wrong when we have wealthy movie stars and athletes getting away with crimes that they did commit, and poverty-striken Americans getting thrown in jail for crimes they could not have committed...

  3. Diane and Tom -- Thank YOU!
    Dani -- This is as good a place as any to leave the dream as well! Blessings as you live it out!