Both/And

A former student sent me a blog post by the singer Carrie Newcomer that coincided with an observation of my own that I’d recently discussed with my husband. (I should note here that this wasn’t a student from my “professoring” days–he’s a student from my high-school English teacher days who still keeps in touch! Talk about making this old lady feel appreciated!!)

Newcomer’s post was titled “Holding the Both/And of Human Possibility,” and began with her description of a trip she’d taken to a small town. Her plane had been delayed, and when she got to the airport, the rental car agencies were closed, the town’s only taxi service was closed for the night, and her hotel was a half-hour drive away. She’d reconciled herself to spending the night in the airport with her coat as a blanket, but then the last couple at baggage claim asked her if she had a ride.

They looked at one another (they had been on my same late flight) and said they would be happy to give me a ride to the hotel. Relief rolled down my shoulders and I told them I would be eternally grateful for their help. So as the last lights were dimming in the airport we packed up the back of their car with our things and headed into town. We talked about that region of the country in the springtime, family, music and traveling and I discovered they were returning home from a trip to Australia. With all the weather delays they were more than thirty hours into traveling, but were heading home right after they dropped me off. They were lovely people. When we reached the hotel I offered to help pay for gas (which they graciously refused) and I gave them as many CDs as they would accept. As they were about to leave I mentioned how grateful I was for their help and grateful that my hotel was on their way home. The woman chuckled and the fellow said, “well actually we live about 45 minutes the other direction” and I realized they had added a full hour to their already brutally long travel day —to help out someone they didn’t know who was going to have to sleep in an airport alone until morning.

Newcomer went on to contrast that kindness with a recent speech in which Trump had made fun of people with various disabilities, and reminded her readers that it was far from the first time “this man has used the dangerous tools of authoritarianism to marginalize, demonize or dehumanize entire groups of people (immigrants, persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, and others).”

The rest of the post is a thought-provoking meditation on how we should live in a world where we inevitably encounter both kinds of people. I encourage you to click through and read the entire post, because it is thoughtful and inspiring–and absolutely true.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I read Newcomer’s essay just after I had shared a similar observation with my husband. After we downsized, we moved into an apartment building in the center of Indianapolis’ downtown. The vast majority of other residents are a very diverse population of young professionals–and I do mean young. And they have been unfailingly kind and considerate. They open doors for us, offer to help us with packages, wish us a good day…From what I can tell, those courtesies extend to each other, even though they represent a very diverse mix of ethnicities, races and even nationalities.

They give me hope.

And then I turn on the news, and see what Carrie Newcomer described so movingly. As a commenter here noted a couple of days ago, it isn’t just Trump. His MAGA supporters are evidence that there are many fearful, limited people who have channeled those fears and limitations into grievance and hate. Worse still, there are so many candidates willing to pander to that hate and encourage those bigotries. (One of the Republican candidates for Indiana Governor is currently running an ad in which Tucker Carlson characterizes Black Lives Matter members as “cop killers.” He ran a previous ad featuring an African student he’d helped, so I presume he thought it inoculated him against charges of racism…)

Both/And…

As Newcomer says, we live at a time when all our daily actions matter for lifting up the potential for goodness. Read the essay.

18 Comments

  1. Very good post, thank you. I always welcome an early morning positive message of hope.
    It makes me consider something I have observed over many years; that if you are optimistic about life, you will see goodness all around you, and the reverse is true as well. If you are disposed to treat people with respect and trust you will also expect be treated the same way, and if you are a liar and a cheat, you expect to be lied to and cheated.

  2. Did anyone see the interview with Paolo Ramos on Alex Wagner’s show last night? Ramos described the horror show at the southern border where the drug cartels are extending their inhumanity to the vulnerable people trying to escape the horrors of their own countries.

    So, why are there drug cartels and why are so many people running for their lives? U.S. drug users, that’s why. Add to that the total inhumanity of Texas’ governor and AG and you have a human catastrophe second to – barely – what is happening in other parts of the world … like Gaza.

    Yeah. Feel-good stories remind us that 75% of us are decent, caring and rational regarding how we treat others. The 25% are the problem, and most of them are the Republican morons still living in medieval times with NO regard for others except their true believers. All good Christians too, no doubt.

    So all this stuff only describes what happens when not enough people in a democracy do the right thing and vote out the evil doers… just like they did in 1932 when they elected FDR to quell the rise of Nazi-ism and fascism. And here we are again at a similar threshold with an opportunity to slam the door in the face of the 25%

  3. Professor-thank you for sharing these thoughts that we may want, as a society, to start prioritizing.

  4. Cynical rainy morning in NC…”random acts of kindness” are indeed beautiful and hopeful, BUT, more and more IMHO, “random”. Our governments and people are increasingly acting for ME and the H with everyone else.

  5. So, I read her post, and commented there: “I am totally new to the fact of your presence, having come by way of Sheila Kennedy’s blog, expect that I know what “good eggness” is about, and want to thank you for the “Both/And” piece. It certainly can be hard to hold each of these simultaneously. It is, exactly, the scared and vulnerable, perhaps little, people who get sucked into the orbit of someone like Mr. TFG of multiple indictments, and give his sort whatever clout he has. But, yes, there are many other people who are comfortable in their skins, and can protect our culture from the acid within.”
    Thank you.

  6. I am noted for talking to everyone around me wherever I happen to be, and I have rarely found those who don’t respond happily. People are people and like to be noticed and cheered up.

    Of course, I am white, male, old, love pets, speak unaccented English, am uncostumed, and not a threat to anyone. I also talk only positively because I have nothing to whine about.

    That is why it’s so difficult for me to transition to political talk, no matter its source, purpose, or form. People change from who they are otherwise to reflect some other being, position, or situation.

    The nature of contemporary politics is to portray “others” as threats and “us” as victims of their ill intentions. While such a portrayal is occasionally accurate, my life would suggest that it is almost so rare that it is not worth consideration.

    Democracy assumes that the majority has good intentions towards others, and criminal statutes and law enforcement restrain those who don’t. Therefore, others deserve freedom equal to mine.

    I am okay with that and protect it in every way possible.

  7. Most of the people in MAGA don’t even realize they are in a cult. As easy as it is to call them “uneducated” or “dumb” out of frustration I think we must not do so because they only double down on their convictions. Its important to treat them as equals and talk in a gentle open way with them about their opinions. When they start to see that you are just a person like they are and not the “vermin” or other insults that Trump wants them to see it helps. It helps to breakdown the “stereotypes” that they have been fed to believe in. Keep being kind and open to listening to them because they are just as frustrated with the political process as you are even if they are across the aisle. Like me, I don’t agree with my father but I love my father. I don’t think my Dad really wants or intends to be a “bully”. For example, He just has strong opinions about the Border and Communism due to his past experience with war.

  8. Well said, Mitch and others.

    I try to be grateful every day. It helps me view the world differently. As a Taoist, I believe in yin/yang and harmony. You can’t have darkness without lightness. We need both to be in harmony. There are no absolutes because anything absolute is death. Absolute lightness would be death, just like absolute darkness would be death. We need both.

    I accept the MAGA close-minded fever as a balance to the open-minded, liberal way of thinking. On X, I get comments from both regularly. I appreciate supporting comments and accept the negative comments. I try to smile at both!

  9. As the Professor frequently says, it’s complicated. The hateful speech, whether directed as me personally or to “other” collectively, creates an almost visceral repulsion. To engage may be dangerous, frustrating, frightening, disheartening, shocking, sorrowful, any or all of the above. I love my family/friends, but sometimes do not like them, or their actions/opinions. Trust lost, distance created and dismay at the likely future of the relationships make me pity us all.

  10. In a world that is increasingly Either/Or, this message resonates. Thanks for your continued wisdom in a world of uncertainty.

  11. I like to remember a trip to Paris from 2001, with my wife and 18-month-old son. We strollered him around town, popping up and down from Metro stations, and doing a _lot_ of walking. It was wonderful, but exhausting. (At Notre Dame, we spent more time sitting on the benches by the sandpits outside the cathedral watching my son play than touring the inside of it.)

    Encounter 1: On the first day in Paris, my wife went off to buy some fruit for my son at a tiny nearby grocery store. I stayed with my son. She was less sure of exchange rates and using her high-school French. She bought a single banana, and was charged 50 francs (~$10CDN). That was at least 10 times what it should have cost. The clerk recognized her difficulty and, rather than helping, took immediate advantage.

    Encounter 2: The next day, after returning from sightseeing, we stopped at a small convenience store in the middle of the block for supplies. It was on the way from the Metro station to our little hotel. Once we got to the hotel, we couldn’t find the chocolate bar my wife had gotten herself. We wrote it off; maybe we’d dropped it, or whatever. It was just a chocolate bar, after all. The next day, after returning from sightseeing, we of course followed the same path from the Metro to the hotel. Shortly after passing the convenience store, a man runs out of the store, flags us down, and gives us the chocolate bar. Apparently, we’d forgotten it on the counter, and he’d hung on to it, and been watching for us since then. It was just a chocolate bar, but… it wasn’t _just_ a chocolate bar. I tear up a little thinking about it even all these years later.

    So there are people who go out of their way to be awful, but thankfully, there are also people who go out of their way to be kind and decent. I try to be the latter; it costs very little, and honestly feels very good.

  12. As my health has declined, I’m amazed at how many angels I’ve found. Many of them are fans and voted for 45 twice. Many are liberals who speak of moving to Canada, if he wins in November. I don’t bring the topic of politics up with them, but I do talk about policy and suggest fixes. I also listen to what they say in

  13. Sorry again! It seems my first comment didn’t get posted, although I didn’t think I had used any offensive language. I was advised that my comment was being reviewed and would be posted when cleared. Essentially I noted that I had discovered angels on both sides. Don’t talk politics. Talk issues and listen to what they say in reply.

  14. This is a little off topic but I’m hoping that Sheila will discuss Project 2025 at some point. I don’t know how many people even know such a thing exists.
    It’s easy to think that Trump doesn’t have a plan because he’s all over the place in how he talks, but there is a plan. Maybe part of the plan is looking like you don’t have one. So you can install it without people realizing it until its too late. We definitely need a reasonable response to this “plan”.

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