Windows and Mirrors - Seesaw by Florence Sprague

Windows and Mirrors for All


By Florence Sprague

               Some books are worthy of a periodic rereading. For some it is just fun (ever read Thomas Gray, Philosopher Cat?), but for others it is because you see so many different things in them at different points in your life or of society. At 16 Native Son, by Richard Wright, perplexed me. At 50 I knew more and it was a gut punch. More recently, events have led me back to Night, by Elie Wiesel. Such a calm, matter of fact, recounting of inhumanity and horror that cuts right to the heart of a system of pointless cruelty and the reader’s heart.

               Why has there been the recent surge of bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish institutions? What has awakened and unleashed the  latent anti-Semitism which so many had hoped and believed to be not latent or dormant, but truly exorcised?

               Whether such threats and attacks are made on Jewish institutions and individuals, Muslim institutions or individuals, people who are immigrants, people who look like they might be “other” or from a banned nation, they are frightening. They are dually frightening- both for the actual harm inflicted and threatened, and for the divisive and destructive attitudes abroad in this country that they both reflect and reinforce.

               Before they began to disappear from playgrounds, every child learned to fly up and down on the seesaw, or teeter-totter. Children quickly learned that it was both more fun and easier to bounce and fly up and down over and over rather than to sit still and wiggle minute amounts to achieve a delicate balance with both riders on the same level. Both types of activity were soon perceived to be easier when the riders were of not too dissimilar size and energy.  

               An effective response to threats against Muslims or Jews or any group benefits from patience. Not the patience of ignoring something in hopes that it will just go away, but the patience that provides a firm base for calm perseverance in the face of outrage rather than hysteria. Speak the truth. Listen, share, engage, lobby, teach, learn, listen some more, explain, study, welcome… persevere.

               It seems to be human nature to want to put oneself and one’s group UP by putting other persons and groups DOWN. But what we really need is to wiggle ourselves to a balance point. That is more work and, as we are seeing now, not particularly stable if we are not paying attention. What can we do to make it more stable? Help ALL to see that they benefit from balancing. Someone does come down as the other comes up, but we all benefit from the parity of balancing.

               Within the groups that are UP there are still individuals who are DOWN. And on most playgrounds, there have never been enough seesaws for everyone to play at the same time; those on the sidelines just want to join the game. And just as seesaws are fewer these days because many consider them dangerous, so too is it dangerous to put some people UP at the expense of others.

Persevere. We are a society out of balance.