Chord: Any harmonic set of pitches consisting of two or more (usually three or more) notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously.
At a time when polarizing rhetoric is pervasive, we invite you to do something quite different: Discover and share through stories, memoir, creative non-fiction, and poetry what it takes to create genuine harmony with someone who feels challengingly different from you, what it takes to discover a common chord in our increasingly contentious and intolerant world.
We begin with three assumptions.
First: The most important moral measure of any society is how it speaks of and conceptualizes the value of every one of its members, unfortunate and fortunate, liberal and conservative, urban and rural, of any ethnicity, race or class. In a democracy like ours, this is not only a moral measure but also a civic one. Its essence is a presumption of good faith. This good faith is expressed through discovering and rediscovering and organizing around our common good—and that discovering and rediscovering depend heavily on our ability to see the good in each other in all our difference. Really see it, lift it up, and do the same with our own. This is not a zero-sum world, a zero-sum country, unless we think it so. To think it so defies the one commitment we do share in this idealistically defined democracy—that we are each of intrinsic, inalienable value.
Second: The creation and application of this essential good faith is primarily the responsibility of individual citizens.This is even more true now, with the volume and vitriol high on all sides, magnified even more by the centrifugal power of social media. How do we live out this commitment to the existentially equal value of those around us when we ourselves feel deeply devalued, feel our definition of the common good is unheard or denied? What do we do with the galvanic responses we have to the profound threat that devaluation poses to us—a threat our bodies and our hearts recognize even faster than our minds? Under threat we all become more authoritarian, impulsive, suspicious, unkind and rigid—and frightened, sad, bleak, discouraged, and unforgiving. It's so quick, like a switch. An alternate reality. None of us are exempt.
Third: We have the answers in us if we can slow down, step back, listen.When have you been able to see the good in someone you once thought the antithesis of what you hold dear, see that good in a way that alsomade you aware of your own value? Where have you contributed to the creation of that common chord? Why did you have to do it? What helped you do so? What kept you going when it felt impossible? What changed in you and between you because of that experience?
This harmonizing, respectfully, in full awareness of our difference is hard work. Nitty-gritty, life-worthy work. This is why we invite stories and memoirs and poetry, not well thought out theses. We want to immerse ourselves in the dynamics, the contradictions, and the staying power involved in that raw, redeeming and difficult work of trying to create genuine harmony. Not one note, but many notes, all distinct, that sound as one. Over and over and over again.
HERE & NOW . . .
We're posting this call quite a bit in advance of the submission deadlines because we think it requires some forethought, some strong swimming against powerful currents. What we're inviting us all to is a sustained change in attitude and practice, one that takes time, thought, and multiple attempts, not all—or even most—successful . . . but informative and valuable all the same.
We include here a list of books to get us thinking—and talking with one another. Some provide more useful conceptual frames in which to understand the psychology and sociology of polarization, others explore the lived experience. We invite you to add to this list. What are books that have helped you understand—and want to bridge—the deep rifts in our country, our communities, our families?
Allen, D. S. (2004). Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education. Chicago, University of Chicago. Payne, K. (2017).The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die.New York, Viking. Berreby, David, "The Things that Divide Us," National Geographic, April 2018. Bishop, B. and R. G. Cushing (2008).The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. New York, Houghton Mifflin. Edsall, Thomas B. "Who's Afraid of a White Minority?: The battle over how to project the future population of the United States has profound political implications," New York Times, August 30, 2018. Haidt, J. (2012).The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.New York, Random House. Hochschild, A. R. (2016).Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York, The New Press.
Mason, C. N. (2016). Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York, St. Martin's. Vance, J. D. (2016). Hillbilly Elegy. New York, Thorndike Press. Bailey, I. J. (2018). My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South. Boston, Other Press.
Send suggestions for other readings to us at email@example.com and we will add them to our list.
A FEW QUOTES TO GET US THINKING . . .
Citizens must imagine themselves part of a 'whole' they cannot see. 'The people' is the name for that 'whole,' and, in fact, wholeness, not oneness, is the master term in the history of democratic peoples. . . . The effort to make people 'one' cultivates in the citizenry a desire for homogeneity, for that is the aspiration taught to citizens by the meaning of the word 'one,' itself. In contrast, an effort to make the people 'whole' might cultivate an aspiration to the coherence and integrity of a consolidated but complex, intricate, and differentiated body.
Is it reasonable for a citizen to accept the uncertainty of representative democracy? Only if he trusts his fellow citizens. When can a citizen trust his fellow citizens? Only when he is not burned by collaborative action. If citizens are to maintain their trust in the institutions of democratic life, they need to see a positive connection between their political membership and their general well-being. They can trust political institutions only if those are worth something to them and do not generally work their harm. Disappointment and resentment, the aftereffects of loss, deplete the reservoirs of trust needed to sustain democratic life. Since democratic decision making necessarily brings about losses for some people, democratic decision makers act responsibly only when they also develop techniques for working through that loss and its emotional surround. A democracy needs forms for responding to loss that make it nonetheless worthwhile or reasonable for citizens who have lost in one particular moment to trust the polity—the government and their fellow citizens—for the future.
From Danielle Allen's Talking to Strangers:Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education
We also invite people to share photos you have taken that speak to the reality of this common chord, a common identity, across all the many divisions in our society, images that lift up the flow of good within our different beliefs and between them. Where have you seen social unity that is based on the value of our differences? Those differences can be visible or invisible, but you know that this image shows they have been bridged in some significant way. Send the images to us and we will post them during the duration of this call: firstname.lastname@example.org
DEADLINE: February 1, 2019 We make final editorial submissions on all submitted manuscripts only after the submission deadline. Electronic submissions only, either Word or RTF. Prose ≤5,000 words. Poetry ≤5 poems. Payment in copies Submit manuscripts electronically email@example.com
We consider dual submissions and previously published work only if informed of this at time of submission. Previously published work must be accompanied with a list of where and when it has been previously published, including on the internet. We do not pay reprint fees. It is the author's responsibility to get needed permissions.