Camped out up the trail from his house in Eastern Kentucky, underneath a makeshift lean-to honoring Sukkot, Chad and I had one of our most personal conversations. In broad terms that are appropriate to share in writing, we spoke of our families, our hopes for the future, our fears. I am a progressive Jew from Boston, and Chad is a Freewill Baptist Preacher and 3rd generation coal miner in Kentucky. One thing we share in common is a dedication to Project CALL, for which we both hold staff positions, fostering multicultural collaboration and leadership amongst diverse youth. In our public work, our private relationship is the foundation.
As our country debates the balance of personal privacy and national security, we must also remember why our personal relationships are so valuable. The debate about balancing privacy and security reinforces the universal belief that people have a right to a certain level of privacy. We deserve spaces and times where no one is listening, where we can be fully ourselves and fully present for others.
So there we were, in a make-shift Sukkah. Sukkot is a harvest festival when Jews spend nights living in tents (a Sukkah) through which the sky must be visible, in which the walls must be impermanent. The Sukkah symbolizes a home, but is itself fragile and fragmented. Only the relationships it holds can be fully whole. Relationships that reflection wholeness are truly sacred. Friendships when people fully trust in one another. When people are able to let go of the anxiety of judgment. When no one else is listening and nothing interferes. This is how Gd sees us always – fully as we are. When mortal people strive to connect in such a way, we mirror the Divine.
The strength of the debate about privacy and national security reinforces the reality that we all strive for trust and safety. We have different beliefs about balancing these needs in public policy, but we share these needs nonetheless. We are humans. Across our wide variety of political backgrounds, religious beliefs and cultures, cooperation and understanding can simultaneously advance the trust and safety that we debate.
This begs the question: were/are trust and safety absent? To what degree? When I met Chad McKnight, we both now admit, we had mutually anxieties about our “friendship”. The first time we went out to the woods together, he packed a gun and rope into the four wheeler. Typical safety precautions in the rural south, but unfamiliar and frightening for a Yankee urbanite like myself! I had just met the man, and here I was, feeling like Isaac on Mount Moriah. The anxieties people experience when they meet are often very reasonable; if people truly meet and learn about each other across great differences, surely they will realize that some of their views diverge on key points. Gun control is just one example. The safety features of a four-wheeler are another, and the list is long.
Growing friendship, understanding, cooperation and love in such a context are actually no great challenge. Debates like our current one around privacy and national security show the passion behind each perspective. Each perspective is based in beliefs, and those beliefs are based in values. Values can be universal. When people honor hear one another’s values, and respect each other’s beliefs, trust and safety grow.
Photo courtesy of the author.