We are at such a fragile moment of US history. There are many paths to influence its trajectory. One path is this one, sitting face to face to understand each other’s concerns and perceptions. Meeting each other, we overcome our separateness and co-create a new reality. Paula Green
Peace Work > Hands Across the Hills
Second dialogue weekend, Letcher County, KY
A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. The grandfather said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”
Act Locally: Hands Across the Hills US Dialogues in an Era of Polarization
After the US elections of 2016, my thoughts turned toward my own troubled and restless country. With others in my largely progressive town in Western Massachusetts, we yearned to understand the roots of the divisions that had become so visible through the elections. We fortunately connected with a community in Eastern Kentucky coal country that had overwhelmingly supported the Trump campaign. We founded Hands Across the Hills, a residential dialogue and cultural exchange program that has garnered extensive national and international publicity, because, I believe, the project offers hope in a time of national despair.
The partnership we formed has taught all of us in both regions a great deal about our ignorance of our fellow citizens and helped us all become advocates of interpersonal encounter as a way to shed our stereotypes and prejudices. As we comprehend the histories of other lives and regions more deeply, we gain compassionate understanding of the relationship between biography and political expression. We have directly learned that we can repair, we can build bonds across vast gaps in our nation, we can understand and care for each other despite significant political differences.
Envisioning and collaborating with others, in 2018 we co-created Bridge4Unity, a racially diverse dialogue group that meets in Amherst MA and occasionally with partners in South Carolina. Co-owned and now co-facilitated, group members seek to deepen both our relationships and our shared work for racial justice in our communities and nation. In 2019, due to the rapid rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, a colleague and I co-created a group for Muslim and Jewish participants to explore their different histories and shared hopes for everyone’s safe and secure future. In all of these dialogue groups, we contradict the separations that threaten all of us. Instead, we reach out to touch the true nature of our interdependence.