When I was a little girl, my next door neighbor hosted a Halloween party that everybody in the neighborhood attended. One of the features of the party every year, was the “guts box.” She had a black cardbord box that was all taped up, except for a round hole where you could slide your hand into it and feel “guts”. The insides weren’t really guts (obviously) but a combination of grapes, smooshed up bananas, melted cheese, jello and a host of other delectable and gooey food products.
Being somewhat of an anxious kid, I really struggled to get my hand in the box. My friend Bonnie seemed to have no problem. She just stuck her hand in there and “oooed” and “ahhhed” her way through the “eyeballs (grapes)” and other “guts.”
I, on the other hand, needed to tell myself over and over (and sometimes even out loud), “Molly, that’s just food in there…really just food. There is nothing to fear. It’s just food.”
Two years ago, I began work on a new project called “The Red Boot Coalition.” The Red Boot Coalition is a structured program that, in essence, teaches participants how to engage with the world in a way so that people really see each other rather than the ideology or stereotype wrapped around them.
The idea for this new program came to me…after traveling across the country for several weeks in 2014 and interviewing a couple hundred folks about all this “us and them-ing” going on in the world. I learned pretty quickly that underneath all that “us and them-ing” is a helluva lot of fear.
What made these interviews possible was the fact that I had very little fear. The interviews were conducted in Starbucks coffee shops, the homes of people I knew, hotel lobbies…you know places where I had no notion of what “side” a person was on…and with no context, there was no fear.
Yesterday, after a series of interesting and very brave discussions both online and off, I realized that my job in the universe (and I’m not kidding…it really is my job) is to dissessemble the scary “guts’ box” and provide safe and sacred places for people to get to the fear underneath. That’s what Red Boot is all about. Because underneath the context, the guts, the grapes and the squooshy, scary stuff are people just trying to feel safe, loved and connected.
The challenge for me, however, rests in the fact that I’m still human and I can still be afraid of the “gooey guts.” The whole project is forcing me to practice what it “preaches’ and look at what scares ME and put my hand in anyway…to go first…to sit down with someone who has an ideological viewpoint that is counter to mine and listen for the fear, the love, the wanting to connect parts of their story…because as I’m learning…that’s what human beings want anyway.
Yesterday a man walked into a Planned Parenthood and shot people. A white male, aged 57, walked into a building and killed three people. I can come up with lots of reasons for why he did that. One thing of which I am pretty certain though…over time he became increasingly scared of “them”…and I think based on what information has been gathered up at this point…his “them” is my “us.”
So…it hit me yesterday, with all that’s going on in the world, that I’ve just gotta keep listening and loving to the best of my ability…the people who scare me…who are my “them”; because if I don’t, we’re just going to get further and further apart.
The “gut’s box” was really just a bunch of grapes and jello anyway.