Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bumper Sticker Living

This is a glorious picture that I found with a quick Google search. There is a car that parks on one of the main streets in my neighborhood that has a similar look. I wish I was bold enough to pull over and take a high quality picture. Each time I see it, I have the same reaction to the image below, "Wow - this person has a lot to express." As I take in this image, there are messages of being fiscally conservative, images of women in the American flag, an outline of our country filled with a rainbow flag, a message to keep abortion legal, a commitment to music, a few shout outs to spirituality and science... Whoa. That is a lot as you are driving your truck around town. 

I believe it was during my partner's tenure as a Seminary student that we pulled up to the light at Garnet in PB behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, "Libraries Change Lives". He started laughing and asked if I thought that he should change his graduate work to being a librarian. Cheeky. What a powerful statement that fit on such a little sticker. Really - this person had a strong opinion. They were passionate enough to find/receive a bumper sticker and then take the time to actually apply it to their car. All I know about them is this statement. The whole thing got me thinking... Are we more than Bumper Sticker Living? Or, is our entire world view opinion summed up in a clever statement that we put out to others? Two main concepts trouble me about this phenomenon.

Bumper Sticker Living does not invite explanation or rationale. Do we interact in a world where our total sentiment is expressed in a sentence and possibly a graphic? Where cliches are the go-to for explaining complex and deep issues? When we wear a shirt, make a Facebook post, tweet at someone - these allow others to make leaps and decisions based on how they interpret us. If I follow that train of logic, I end up not really being able to full share my thoughts or opinions. Bumper sticker living keeps us from sharing, but also from hearing others.

Which brings me to #2 - Bumper Sticker Living limits our action. As we talk about leadership, we often/always talk about change. If I am communicating with others via sound bytes, how can we ever collaborate and develop a sense of commonality that brings change. I was talking with a student today about the difference between sympathy (I feel bad for you), empathy (I feel bad with you), and compassion (I feel called to action). I know that we, as a Fraternity and Sorority Community, can embrace the approach of compassion - it just requires more than Bumper Sticker Living.

As I close out today, I am mindful of all that has changed in our world since September 11, 2001. I know that you all have a lot to say - just like my neighbor and their car. As we remember those that sacrificed and were killed 12 years ago, I hope that we embrace our freedom to create a world that stops at what fits on a bumper sticker. 

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