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Brickner: You are what you eat

Brickner writes, "As my mother said, “What’s in you comes out.” We cannot simply blame Facebook for its algorithms, or hysterical, even hateful, pastors or QAnon. Leaders are important, but we are responsible for ourselves. We choose who we allow to enter the doors of our homes and our hearts. We choose what we eat. What do we consume? Stories of justice? Kindness? Courage? Or do we “like” stories that stoke anger and offense, that intensify as we feed them?"

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Joan Brickner, Forum Readers Board

At Thanksgiving, we gather to stuff ourselves with dry turkey and tart cranberries. Hopefully, talk reaches beyond “pass the potatoes” to sharing stories, without dissolving into bitter bickering. My husband’s family indulged in a tradition of going around the table to answer this question: “What are you most thankful for this year?” However momentary, we paused for reflection. We remembered, perhaps with a brief story.

Stories. Whether relating the events of the day or recounting the exploits of heroes, they sustained our ancestors in the firelight circles. They thread us together – connecting families, friends, neighbors, and even strangers in the grocery store line. At least before smart phones.

As a family, it might be stories of immigrant ancestors, like a co-worker who shared the story of her grandfather or great-grandfather whose homesickness for Norway led him to repeatedly return, despite the hardship for his family. Or the desperation that led my father to harvest dandelions for family dinners during the Depression.

Stories can build bridges, perhaps leading to understanding. I used to dismiss hunting and even hunters, until a thoughtful friend of mine showed me that hunting, for him, wasn’t about bloodlust, but his connection to nature, his respect for the animal he would skillfully and respectfully kill. Hunting tied into stories of his father. I do eat meat, after all.

My admiration for student refugees increased as they shared their hardship and persecution. Displacement prevented some from using their college educations, and made English their fourth, fifth or sixth language.

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In our broken times, we need stories more than ever. Social media and political tribalism are often vehicles of division. We consume toxic words too easily, becoming locked in our own little worlds, silos that silence dissent. And sometimes our geography walls us in, living in homogenous communities. I watch University of Michigan football games with far more Blacks on the field than in the crowd of over 100, 000. Without interaction, we are locked into stereotypes or sensationalized incidents.

Studies, like one posted by Claudia Hammond, on the BBC site, show fiction builds empathy, builds bridges. Jane Austen or James Baldwin help us. But even nonfiction narratives or films, like "Belfast," perform a similar healing function.

But the kinds of stories we feed on are vital. What are you feeding on? As my mother said, “What’s in you comes out.” We cannot simply blame Facebook for its algorithms, or hysterical, even hateful, pastors or QAnon. Leaders are important, but we are responsible for ourselves. We choose who we allow to enter the doors of our homes and our hearts. We choose what we eat. What do we consume? Stories of justice? Kindness? Courage? Or do we “like” stories that stoke anger and offense, that intensify as we feed them? Fear that radicalizes us? What we consume consumes us and those around us.

Recently, Andrea Lucado, daughter of the famous writer and pastor Max Lucado, declared she was no longer a single-issue voter because with abortion, as with other issues, we need to hear people’s stories.

May we share our stories and save ourselves.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Related Topics: FAMILY
Opinion by Joan Brickner
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