by: Pastor Jim Eaton, DC Metro Area Coordinator
It seemed to stretch forever, the Karnaphuli bridge connecting Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. I was just six years old but I’ll never forget lurching and jostling over this bridge, built by the British in1930, as I stared transfixed at the river and the boats navigating its treacherous currents far below. I’ve been a fan of bridges ever since.
Bridges, especially the suspension variety, function because of tension. “In suspension bridges, tension forces are most important. Tension forces pull and stretch material in opposite directions, allowing a bridge to support itself and the load it carries.” (Smithsonian.com)
It’s tension that makes a bridge work. As in life.
The work of peacemaking is essentially a work of bridgebuilding. And thus intrinsically involve tension. We cannot engage in true peacemaking, true bridgebuilding without experiencing tension.
But herein lies the problem. We don’t like tension. We prefer harmony, comfort and ease. When circumstances shift from harmony to disharmony, from comfort to discomfort, from ease to conflict–most people instinctively back away from the peacemaking act of building bridges, and retreat to their respective silos.
But it’s precisely in the times of greatest conflict, when our natural human instinct is to back away from those who stand on the other side, in the other narrative—it’s in those times when the act of bridgebuilding is most crucial.
It’s often said, “We need to build some bridges.” And that is true. Yet I believe we need to take the discussion down a level to something still more basic. We need to discuss bridgebuilding, of course. But I believe we most often fail at that when we do not realize that before we can build the bridge, we must be the bridge.
The bridge is you.
If your MO is to live and function within your cultural, religious, ethnic silo, and when times are good and everyone is smiling for the selfies, then you focus on building your bridge to others…this will prove to be insufficient when the crisis hits.
You will retreat. You will go back to the silo you already were living in, but occasionally making a show of bridging. You will strengthen the walls of your silo, because that’s where you were living all along.
As much as we need bridgebuilding, we need to become bridges ourselves. We need to radically explore our own worlds, our habits, our connections, and ask ourselves the hard question: am I living as a bridge or am I living as a silo?
Look around your life. Where do you live? Is your neighborhood diverse? Where do your children go to school? When you go out for fun, does everyone look like you, worship like you, eat food like you? Check your text threads: are they diverse? Or are they filled with people just like you? Are your social media conversations mere echo chambers? What books do you read? Movies do you watch? What authentic conversations are you having with people different than you? Are your closest friendships with those like you, or are you actively cultivating friendships with others who are very different?
Here’s the test: if you are right now living as a bridge, if right now you have close friendships with those in the other narrative, you can successfully navigate the crisis, because your life is authentic. The circumstances may be daunting, the conversations difficult and uncomfortable. Yet the relationships will hold, the bridge will hold, because this is already who you are.
Mohandas Gandhi put it this way: “If we could change ourselves, the tendences in the world would also change…We need not wait to see what others will do.”
The bridge is you.