This past weekend showed an utterly disgusting and dangerous side of America, that of the white nationalist and white supremacist. It’s easy to throw up your arms in outrage and frustration saying, ‘who are these people and why are they so angry and filled with hate?’ It’s a good question, especially in light of the fact that they say they are celebrating ‘heritage not hate’. So, let’s talk about this, shall we?
One of the young men who got a lot of attention was Peter Cvjetanovic, of Reno, Nevada. He is 20 years old. He is quoted as saying, “I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture.” He says he is not a racist yet he is at an obviously racist rally.
This got my attention for a number of reasons. One, I too am of European heritage. If I could choose to go anywhere on my travels, I again and again find myself wanting to go to Europe. It’s where my ancestors came from and it’s what I feel connected on a very personal level. But I don’t feel anything like what he feels. why is that? This is an exploration of why. Two, I am an old guy compared to him. I want to talk to this young man like I would talk to a son or daughter. I want to help him understand things just a little bit deeper if he will listen.
So, with that in mind here is my open letter to him.
Here are 5 ways you can love their heritage and not be a racist.
1. Learn it to Love It
Don’t be fooled by a simplistic, outdated and false narratives about your people and your culture, or any culture. You might be under the illusion that Europe did all the great things it did (and it did some pretty amazing things) because it’s people are genetically superior. This is not true. I suggest you read the book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond for a very thorough and insightful story of how history comes about. It will open your eyes to the advantages Europe had in many areas that allowed for its development, advantages that have nothing to do with genetics or the superiority of it’s people.I would then suggest you read up on the science of race, In particular how race was defined centuries and decades ago in ways that are no longer valid, how those divisions still cloud your understanding of a separation where none actually exist. It will be eye-opening.
The point is, of course, to educate yourself. Once you do that, your love for your heritage will be more complex, tinged with sadness at the terrible atrocities committed in Europe and by Europeans elsewhere, but also tinged with pride at the many amazing, loving and positive things Europeans have done as well. If you are going to have a relationships with the past, it should be like any deep relationship, achieved by really knowing the good and the bad.
2. Be Cultured to Know Culture
If you want to take pride in a culture, you must be cultured. That means you need to know something about the art, music, architecture, philosophy, literature, food, commerce, business, languages, history and religions of that culture. You can’t take pride in something you don’t know. You are in college now, nothing is easier to learn in almost any American college than western civilization. There are likely courses dedicated to every element I mentioned above. Study those things, immerse yourself in those things. Find out about the sweep of art from the Greek sculptures to the Abstract Expressionists. Learn why Beethoven was considered such a genius. Discover the difference between Wagner and Verdi. Look into the split between Luther and the Catholic Church.
When you do these things you will be amazed. You will also be enlightened, not just by ‘The Enlightenment’ (read Voltaire, by the way) but by the profound level of hate and anger that many of these artistic, cultural and religious geniuses endured as they put forth their vision. It should teach you that courage is about love, not hate. People don’t create lasting value in their culture by hating someone or something. They create it by following an idea they love. Focus on that.
3. Go There to Know There
If you want to love your heritage, go there. Instead of spending your money to go from Reno to Charlottesville to protest, take the money and go to England or France or Italy or wherever you feel your roots are. Go with your mother, father or better yet a grandparent, and together see where you were from. See the amazing structures, fantastic discoveries, and outrageous creativity of your ancestors. That is all good. But don’t just look at what is popular. Go search out what isn’t so great. Look into the slave trade that took hold in England and the Netherlands. Look at the treatment of people from different social classes and the extreme poverty so many lived in, look at how women and children were treated during the industrial revolution. I don’t say you should do this so you will feel bad about your heritage. I say it so you will fully know your heritage.
4. See that the River Has Many Sources
My wife, daughter and I once sat on the banks of the Mississippi river in New Orleans and I remember wondering where all that water came from. Years later we were up in Colorado and we went rafting on the Arkansas River. It wasn’t wide or majestic, but raw and wild. I remember realizing how it was the same great plains river that flows no more than 3 miles from my home in Oklahoma and it was part of that huge river I sat next to in Louisiana.
Your culture is like that. It may seem to be all about Europe, but it’s sources come from all over the world. The Greeks and Romans took inspiration from the Middle East and Egypt. The beauty of so much of Spain’s architecture has its roots in the Islamic religion that prevailed for hundreds of years on the Iberian peninsula. The Impressionists created some of their most iconic compositions as a result of the influx of Japanese prints. Genghis Khan and his empire from Mongolia spread ideas about politics, trade and commerce into Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East that had never been seen before.
Next, get your DNA researched. You will be amazed at how complex and convoluted the genetic path to you really is. It could be you are mostly European like I am, but you could also have African-American heritage like I do. You could be connected to Asia or Native America in ways you never could have guessed. It will get you out of your pre-conceived notions of who you are and where you came from. Check out this wonderful spot that explains it in ways I never could.
5. Repress Judgment, Express Curiosity
I like to think of myself as an amateur ‘expert’ on the Revolutionary War era in America. What that really means is I have read a lot of books on the subject. But recently many of my ideas about the personalities of that era have been blown apart by reading ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow. It goes into much more detail about Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Adams and Hamilton than any other book I have read. The information has made me reevaluate all my settled opinions of these people. I could refuse to believe Chernow’s information, accuse him of lying about these characters I like so much, and be done with it. But I didn’t do that. I was open-minded to what I might find because I focused on learning and curiosity instead of judgment.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, but this book is a reminder that I need to hold my opinions lightly. If I really am going to be an ‘expert’ on something, then I need to be willing to learn new things about that thing and I can’t do that if I am constantly judging and proclaiming I already know everything about it. Do you want to really know your European culture? Then you have to be open-minded and curious, with as few assumptions and prejudices as possible for that to happen successfully.
Where To Go From Here
Now, look back at these ideas. Which one of these would make you a racist? None of them. None of these ideas will create hate in you for other cultures, other races, other individuals. As a matter of fact, they should lessen the fear you have and strengthen the love you have, both for your culture and for the amazing strands of ideas, art and humanity that led there. It should free you to see that yours is not the only culture deserving of interest, admiration and respect.
In the end I wish for you this realization. Your true heritage is both European and beyond that. It is Human. You can live side by side with someone who is not like you and you can learn and teach instead of fear and hate. If you do that I promise that feeling of hate will turn to love. And that is really where you want to be, right?
It was two in the afternoon when I noticed the two. The two were self-involved and didn’t see the other one. I notice that one had two distinct colors, her hair and her dress. I noticed the other one had two things strange about him, he was wearing sunglasses inside and he was mumbling to himself.
It was two oh two when I started drawing the one. It took me two minutes. It was two twenty two by the time I drew the other one. It was two forty two by the time I drew everything in between and around the two.
After I was done I drew three more drawings of three more people, neither one of whom knew the other two. That took me until three twenty two. I waited three weeks before I colored the drawing of the two. It took me a total of two hours at three different times to finish this one.
Beyond the Spiritual
In many ways beyond the spiritual (is there something beyond spiritual?) becoming a Christian has defined my life. I became ‘born again’ in 1976 in LA, right at the height of the Jesus Freak movement. I started going to the first Vineyard Christian Fellowship, got baptized in the Pacific Ocean and stuck with non-denominational churches and college fellowship groups all through my college years. I met my first wife, Kathy, in a college fellowship group, that brought me in contact with her family, who included the single best example of living the true Christian life I’ve ever come across, my father-in-law Dwight Johnson. Boy, did I learn a lot from that man, I am so grateful for him.
© Elliot Erwitt
Judgment and it’s Offsets
An interesting clarifying moment for me came when I went to art graduate school in Michigan in 1980. One the one side I was in a very intensely free and creative environment at school. On the other I was attending a Baptist church my wife and I had found near where we lived. And what did I find? Both groups tended to be a bit judgmental of the other, no doubt about it. But the art group, in spite of their liberality, were the more judgmental of the two, by far. I thought long and hard about why that was. What I discovered as I watched the two groups was, that in spite of the judgmental elements in the teachings at church, there was an even stronger element that offset that (at least in that church and the other churches I had attended), and that was teachings of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility, patience, kindness, and love.
Now, I don’t mean that no one in the art group had any of those traits, of course they did. But as a group they did not have any focused or guided attention paid to those things. i In this case, it was a very intensely judgmental art atmosphere. We were there to refine our art and that happened by putting it in the fire of judgment. But there was no teaching or guiding on the part of the main professor I had, nor the other professors I came in contact with, that offset that with the qualities I mentioned above.
Judgment #1 – © 2017 Marty Coleman
Many decades have passed since then and I’ve been in the art world and the church world both for all those years. I like both worlds, and there are things I don’t like about them. Church can squash creativity and free thinking like it’s nobody’s business. But the art world, as odd as it sounds, can do the same. The church and art worlds can both make you feel like you don’t belong. They can both define the world and culture around them as unacceptable because it doesn’t fit their idea of healthy or happy. They can both be so sure of themselves that they feel superior and enlightened compared to everyone else.
Cross and Dagger – © 2017 Marty Coleman
Best of All
What are you suppose to do in that situation? What I reach for is to be the best of both as best I can. But how does one do that? By practicing. Just as my artwork is better because I practice it, so is my heart, my mind and my actions in all of life when I practice those things I mentioned above; mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility (ok, not always good at that) patience, kindness, and love. It also means I practice judgment. Practicing judgments causes me to use it less, not more. It helps me to discern between pre-judgment, a judgment from a place of ignorance and a judgment from a place of insecurity and defense, and the more powerful and good limited judgment based on observation, evidence and necessity.
Art and Witness – © 2017 Marty Coleman
You don’t get better at something without practice. If you don’t want to get better, then…sorry, you still have to practice because you can’t even maintain your skills without it. This is true of creativity and spirituality and indeed, any quality of character you want to have in life. Finding a way to be inspired to practice any these things is one of the essential tasks of a successful life.
What do you think?
Nude Being Drawn – © 2017 Marty Coleman
The Woman Who Sucked on a Straw © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
But and And
She was stuck in the middle of somewhere but wasn’t sure where that was and that made her feel lost and scared but she did like her shirt and how her necklace matched her hair but she was self-conscious about her freckles because it was so weird that she had only three of them in each location on her face and she did like her new eyelash extensions that she had never used before but were given to her by her friend who she thought she might see so she wore them but now she doubted it because she didn’t know where she was even though she knew she was somewhere and then her ears started burning bright red which was not usual because she was usually blue but it made her look around and she saw a teepee in the distance not far from a big city that only confused her because she knew she had somewhere to go now but wasn’t sure where because they both looked attractive and both her ears were burning meaning both places were talking about her so she decided to wait and think about it some more.
The Woman at the Motel
A woman named Nancy at the Del Mar Motel who has 3 kids and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses & always reads the sports section because her dad was a high school football coach who talked about her son with ADHD & Tourette Syndrome whom they adopted from the next town over in Orange County and took to Hawaii on his 6th birthday and hoped he didn’t think he would always get trips like that and who is trying to think ahead about real estate for her kids’ future.
Drawing and story by Marty Coleman
One of my favorite things to do when I go on vacation is street photography, meaning not photos of streets, but photos of the action on the street. It really means action most anywhere; in stores, at famous monuments, etc. The only defining factor is that it is spontaneous and, for the most part, not posed.
In the early summer of 2015 my wife Linda, daughter Caitlin, and I went to London and Paris. These are a selection of the photos I took on the streets of these two amazing cities. Each photo I think captures an essence of the moment in a way that staged photos can’t. After each photo I have given some ideas of what I was looking for and what you can also look for when you do street photography.
Selfie Kiss at Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
The main thing about street photography is you have to be ready. No fumbling, no settings, no focusing even. You have to get that shot as if it’s a breaking news story, right now right there. In this case I had already noticed her bright red (and long) fingernails so I was attuned to her.
I also knew there was a rare empty space not filled with people behind her and watched for a moment to see if something interesting might compose itself. And when she raised her arm I knew what was coming and raised my camera.
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Stripes – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography is about visual stimulation. Your eye drives the process and you have to respond quickly. The decision-making has to be immediate or the moment has passed. In this case I already had my finger on the shutter button as I happened to see this woman with the bold striped dress coming towards me. I didn’t think about it I just pushed the button.
The other thing about street photography is the fun of not really knowing what you captured. The stripes were interesting, yes. But getting the other striped shirt and the person walking right between them was fun to discover later and it’s what makes the photograph as a whole visually stimulating to me.
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LOOK FOR CONTRASTS
Standing Nudes, Sitting People – © Marty Coleman 2017
Juxtaposition is a key element in the commentary in much street photography. The interaction between people, objects, environment, and light add to the visual conversation.
In this case the verticality and solidity of the sculptures played off the very slack and loose poses of the sitters. I loved the humorous juxtaposition of their poses and of the nudity vs clothing so I pushed the button. If you notice, the camera is not up at my eye level. I had it around my neck hanging to my stomach and took the photo from there. I could have chosen to raise it up, it wouldn’t have bothered me to be seen taking the photo, but having the sitters be midway between the sculptures was key to the composition and feeling of the image so I kept the camera at waist level.
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THERE ARE ANGLES AMONG US
Bride and Locks – © Marty Coleman 2017
Doing street photography means you are always looking for great angles. Sometimes that means you have to imagine what something would look like from a different angle from the one you are at. Keeping the camera at your face and thinking that is the only image available limits your choices considerably.
In this case there was no doubt I was going to take a photo of this bride on the bridge full of locks. The question was what angle would best tell the story? There was way to much clutter in the image when I was standing up so I squatted down very low and put the camera even lower, almost to the ground, to get the shot. This is one of the reasons an articulating screen at the back of the camera is essential to street photography, so you can see very low or very high.
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WHERE TO POINT
Two Sisters and a Ceiling – © Marty Coleman 2017
Not only is what height your camera is at something to consider, but where it is pointing as well. To limit yourself to only pointing forward or slightly up or down means once again you are limiting yourself and the possible images you can get.
Here I, along with thousands of others, were looking up at the ceilings in Versailles. But what I saw wasn’t just the ceilings but everyone else taking photos of those same ceilings. I angled my camera from my waist directly up to catch that phenomenon. In this photo I was walking quickly and just barely caught these two women out of the corner of my eye. I turned, snapped and moved on. I didn’t know what the image looked like until well after we were done with the tour and on the way back to Paris on the train.
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BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Bride and Groom at Notre Dame – © Marty Coleman 2017
In street photography something unexpected is always just around the corner. The best shots aren’t always going to be in main areas of tourism or activity. They more likely will happen as you are walking to or from those areas. Having your camera on and ready (and with the lens cap off!) is critical. I can’t tell you how many photos I have missed in my life because of one of these reasons.
Having your camera set to multiple photos at one time is also key. In this case, I saw the bride and groom walking down the street and kept my finger on the button until just the right time and then held it down. I got about 3-4 shots and was able to choose the best one from the bunch as a result.
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ANTICIPATE THE ANTICIPATION
Place to Kiss – © Marty Coleman 2017
When we walk around a city we see the fluidity of time and motion. As a result we often don’t see examples of anticipation. But the still photograph from the street can often capture just that right moment.
Here these two people were drinking and talking and flirting, all the while seeming to hem and haw about the funny sign right next to them. I got the feeling they wanted to kiss but weren’t sure how to go about it, especially when there was a sign directing them to do so!
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MOTION IS YOUR FRIEND
Four Portraits at the Musée d’Orsay – © Marty Coleman 2017
When you do street photography you are going to get motion. And motion means blur. This is not a bad thing. Blur is a tool of expression. It expresses movement, action, direction, energy. Don’t reject an image because of it but instead evaluate how the blur may help the image.
There is usually no more static place in the world than a museum. But people walk around them all the time and that means movement. Here I was able to capture a bit of both the action and the static at the same time. I had a number of other shots from right around this same moment, but this was by far the best because the blur of the woman in the stripes on the far left balanced out the strong and isolated image of the nude by Renoir on the right.
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ISOLATE TO COMMUNICATE
The Singer and the Thames – © Marty Coleman 2017
Isolation is another important element in street photography. Isolation means visual power and weight and it can be used to tell a story.
On the banks of the Thames in London I was watching the hundreds of people go by before I went in to see the Tate Modern Museum. This singer with his small speaker and music machine was entertaining the crowd. But all I saw was him alone next to this giant river. I set myself up to capture an image that showed how I saw him in the midst of the crowd.
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STREET IS STYLE
The Fascinator – © Marty Coleman 2017
Style is everywhere on the street. Ignore it and you miss a million fantastic shots. Find it and you will have a never-ending well of ideas and opportunities.
While we were in London we took the train into a certain station to transfer. When we got off we started seeing an unexpected amount of men and women dressed to the nines. I mean they were really going all out. If it had been on a weekend night it would maybe make sense. But this was at 9am on a weekday morning. What was going on? I didn’t know, but I knew I was going to have my camera ready to go. This woman was walking by with panache and purpose and I immediately angled myself to make sure I got a photo as she passed.
Later we discovered it was the Queen’s Day at the races and everyone was going to the station to travel out to the track.
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The Woman at the Seine – © Marty Coleman 2017
In staged photos we most often will see a lot of people smiling. But staged smiling usually only says one thing. What is great in street photography is to find true expressions that aren’t staged. That are a result of a person’s true feelings coming out.
Here that feeling is sublime joy and happiness. It can be felt in much more than just the Mona Lisa smile she has. It’s in everything her face and body is doing. Always be ready for that moment where you are capturing true feelings because those are what will let people know as much about a place as any monument or building.
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THE COURAGE OF THE PERSONAL
Mannequin and Walker – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography can get very personal. People can see you take photos, some think it is a violation, others couldn’t care less and you don’t know who will react how. If you believe in capturing the life of the street you have to be bold and courageous to do so. Sometimes that means you have the opportunity to ask permission but other times you do not.
I was walking near our Airbnb apartment in Paris early one morning, on my way to the cafe where I had been drawing each morning when I saw this scene. I was focused on the mannequin in the window with the sunrise reflecting off the building when this woman walked by. She had been looking down at her phone but looked up right as a took the shot. She was past me in a second and that was that. I don’t know what her emotions were about seeing me as I was taking pictures and I am not assuming I know. But I had to have the courage to take the photo without knowing that.
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SHOW WHAT IS SEEN
Seeing Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
Bold graphic elements are everywhere in street photography. Windows, doors, people can all be seen not as what they are but as formal devices to frame or direct an image compositionally. This is especially true if you are going to shoot in Black and White or are thinking in terms of BW when you later work on the image.
I didn’t see an image of Versailles here. I saw an image of how Versailles is to be seen. Finding a set of elements composed so they show a third person’s view is something for which you should always be on the look out. It tells a story much more effectively than just a photo of a place.
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LINES OF MYSTERY
Escalation – © Marty Coleman 2017
Lines direct one’s vision. Finding those lines and using them to create mystery or wonder is one of the joys of street photography.
We were headed down into the London Tube and I was standing behind this elegantly styled woman. All I could see were all these lines converging behind her and really wanted to capture that. Once again I simply took the photo from where the camera was hanging around my neck. Being low created a giant black shape in the middle of the image. We know it is her but visually it’s a void, allowing one to imagine what is behind even more than imagining her.
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THE GEOMETRY OF HUMANITY
The Poser in Paris – © Marty Coleman 2017
People are always posing for something. Street photography allows you to capture when people are posing, not for you, but for someone else.
We took a walk along the banks of the Seine and what caught my eye first was the profound geometry everywhere. The lines were formal and abstract and I was trying to find just the right combination of elements when I saw this woman posing for a caricaturist. She leant just the right amount of warmth and humanity to the otherwise severe composition so I took a number of photos. This one, with her gaze going completely off camera, was the one that really expressed how I saw Paris at that moment.
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TO FINISH UP
So, there you have it. A little tour of London and Paris. It’s probably a lot different from what you would find among tourist photos. But maybe these photos give you a different understanding of the two cities. One that is more about the mood and feeling of a place than a recitation of its monuments and objects. That is what street photography can do for you and your appreciation for a place. It is also what it can do for others who see the photos, giving them an idea of what it’s like to be in and around a city, to feel they know a place at a more intimate level.
Give street photography a try, you won’t regret. And by all means let me know how it goes and let me see some of your photos!
Each of these photos is for sale. Price is $50.00 plus shipping. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Give me the name of the piece and we can go from there! I can receive payment and ship internationally.
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The Immature Purpose
The immature among us like to divide things into extreme categories.
A simplistic religious person wants to see anyone who doesn’t believe in a personal God as having no purpose. They want to feel sorry for them because it meets their need to feel enlightened and special. They have a purpose from God and these other people don’t.
A simplistic non-religious on the other hand wants to see a religious person as living under an illusion of purpose. They want to feel sorry for them because it meets their need to feel intellectually superior. Their existence and happiness is enough of a purpose and those other people are woefully deluded.
The Mature Purpose
The mature among us are willing to admit that the complexity of life doesn’t lend itself to dividing things up so neatly.
A complex religious person will admit that while they believe they have a purpose directed from God there are many times they don’t know that purpose. They also will admit that that purpose is constantly evolving as they grow. It might be growth in terms of age and experience or perhaps growth in their spiritual relationship with God. They will also admit that not knowing their purpose in life at every single moment is not critical to their success in life. There are great mysteries they admit to and are willing to live with that. They also will learn that to judge others’ journey of finding purpose (or not) is not one of their purposes in life.
A complex non-religious person will admit that while they are often satisfied with their purpose simply being to exist and be happy, there are other times they doubt and wonder about that, and are sometimes drawn to see if their might be more than that. They will also admit that they sometimes admire the surety with which a religious person feels their purpose so strongly. They will realize that just as they are on their journey of finding purpose (or not) so others are as well and it’s not their purpose in life to judge other people’s journeys.
Where are you in your search for purpose (or not)?
Drawing, quote and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
The Poem About My Senses
I have a poem in my head,
Not fancy or complete.
Actually pretty basic,
mundane but pretty sweet.
Don’t know what it’s all about,
That’s the point of it I think.
But I know It’s sort of funny,
And includes the color pink.
It includes the smell of coffee,
And maybe the passage of time.
I don’t really remember,
But it’s simple in it’s rhyme.
It has an image of windows,
With sun filtering the air.
That flows all around me,
And lands on my hair.
There is a taste of a croissant,
Somewhere in the verse.
And the texture of an almond,
as it falls into my purse.
That’s all I remember,
Of the poem within my head.
It makes me glad to to be alive,
Instead of being dead.
Drawing and poem © 2016 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
This drawing was done at the Glenpool, Oklahoma Starbucks.
It is available for purchase, either the original for $100.00, or a print for $25.00
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The Other Thing I Did
While I was drawing on napkins for my daughters back in the 90s I also was doing something else. I was saying goodbye to them at the door. Each day I would say pretty much the same thing. I would say I love you then I would say “Don’t forget, Make good friends and keep good friends.” Why I came up with that particular phrase, I don’t know. But I would say it every day. And I meant it.
What I wanted for them was a growing, vibrant community. A community doesn’t happen without friendships, a growing community doesn’t happen without new friendships and a vibrant community doesn’t happen without diverse friends. That is why I said that to them.
The Purpose of Diversity
When I say diverse, I don’t mean you have to have a rainbow of skin colors to prove it. I think that would help but only insofar as it’s an outward visual of what is an internal diversity. In other words, the important thing isn’t that your friend has dark brown, red, orange, alabaster or freckled skin. What is important is that you are experiencing, at least some of the time, a person with a life experience different than yours. A life experience you can learn and grow from knowing AND that your friend can benefit from by knowing you.
Courage Over Fear
How do you gather such friends? Yes, by going out into the world. But that isn’t enough. You have to go out into the world with courage and an open heart or else you will simply be carrying your fear around with you and will miss meeting those new friends.
Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Quote by Yours Truly