The Conversation We Have

Publication Note: This column was first published in the April 13, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format.  It is the 9th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.

A key leader in my life has taught me that I can only be offended if I choose to be.  When I consider this, it is quite liberating to think that no one has the power to offend me – it is a choice I make whether I want to harbor an offense, or release it.  Over the years, this notion has prompted me to set the threshold of offense such that there aren’t too many things which qualify for that distinction.

So, if I am choosing not to be offended, then my world opens up to have conversations and to sit at the table with those that I may have previously walled-off, or perhaps worse, were afraid of engaging.  If I build a fence in order to protect myself from the ideas and words of others, I run the risk of missing out on creative opportunities, perspectives, and thought processes to which I may not otherwise be exposed.  I create an awfully small world when I chose to be offended.

Choosing to listen, however, will build a bridge that will benefit not only me, but my neighbor, and the next generation.  That bridge is built in increments.  It is built by spending time with one another, by listening more than talking at times, and by genuinely taking interest in the livelihood and passions of another.

The responsibility is also mine to not be offensive or indifferent to the sensibilities of others.

An older movie I used to frequently watch has a line which states, “Good manners are just a way of showing others that you respect them.”  I really feel like that is one of the unique blessings of our little community here in Lonoke.  As a small Southern town on the edge of the Delta, we still know what good manners are.  It is a bit easier to raise our children here, knowing that they will be in an environment where multiple generations gather and respect is modeled.

It is that characteristic respect and good manners which has marked the community conversation recently here in Lonoke.  I am continually grateful for a community of neighbors who have made the choice to share ideas and to speak with a positive, affirming tone to one another.  That affirmation can be exponential, in that it generates an environment where cooperation and respect are expected and perpetuated.

In a recent column, entitled “The Breakfast Club,” writer Rex Nelson describes a tradition in the basement of the State Capitol in Little Rock where legislators meet over breakfast, trade stories, and build connections with one another.  While the banter among the lawmakers would certainly be animated and lively, they always return to the table, time after time, to visit, to see one another, and to be seen.  I’m glad that Rex Nelson will be in Lonoke later this month to speak at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Appreciation Banquet.  I relish his stories of the rich traditions of our state and region, and his way of celebrating specific people and places.

I also like the idea which Rex describes- a place where there is a table big enough to entertain multiple perspectives, and numerous ideas.  Some ideas may be better than others.  Time will tell, and we certainly don’t have to determine today which ideas are best.  But as we stay at the table together, taking our seat week after week, listening and making room for new voices, those greater ideas emerge from the good, and we are all the better for it.

Our words of kindness enrich the soil of relationship and give life to a stable root system of connection.  If we continue in our determination to use good manners, share good ideas, and be good neighbors, people outside our community are going to take notice.  They will look at Lonoke and come to the realization that we are cultivating something unique, something special, here in community together.

Ryan Biles and his wife Natalie are raising three boys in Lonoke.  You are invited to perpetuate this transparent, respectful conversation using the hashtag #LookAtLonoke on social media.

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