Time to turn talk into positive action

Mike KnaakEditorial, Opinion, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

Suspicion, fear, anger, even hate.

When change and challenges confront us, those reactions sometimes follow.

We’re again hearing white nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment across central Minnesota including recent posters on the St. Cloud State University campus and in St. Joseph.

Last week, the St. Joseph City Council backed a motion to build “a friendly, inclusive and safe community for all who live, work and visit here.”

How do those sentiments become actions that produce results?

A report from the Pew Research Center found divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental values – including immigration and race – are wider than ever.

Twenty years ago, when people were asked their opinions on political issues, the graphed responses looked like a mountain. That is, most people landed somewhere in the middle. Now, that same graph looks like a valley with tall peaks on both extremes of the political spectrum.

How can we turn that partisan antipathy into trust and cooperation?

We need local leaders to build relationships among people so society functions effectively.

Those leaders don’t necessarily need to be elected officials. We can look to community groups, religious leaders or business people to take action. And there are some actions we can take one-on-one to develop new friendships or strengthen existing ones.

The key is to reach out to people you don’t know or who don’t share your political views.

Experts suggest activities organized around food, doing someone a favor, discussions of community issues or working toward a joint goal.

Cultural Bridges, a St. Joseph community group formed to help immigrants feel welcome, suggested a community meal where people share a favorite dish, a forum where participants can talk about immigration, education and housing, and tutoring or mentoring new residents.

Community forums must be based on respect – respect for others’ opinions but also respect for facts. For example, state statistics show while Minnesota has fewer immigrants proportionally than many other parts of the country, foreign-born residents are an increasingly important part of the state economy. Since 2010, more than half of the state’s labor-force growth has come from foreign-born workers who are providing a stream of fresh workers at a time when baby boomers are exiting the labor force in large numbers.

As individuals, we can ask some questions too:

When was the last time you shared a meal with a person of a different race or ethnicity? When was the last time you attended a church of a different faith? How many of your social media friends hold a different political view? Have you worked on a community project in the last year? Do you vote in every election? When was the last time you attended a meeting of your local city council or town board?

To be truly welcoming and inclusive, we need to act, not just talk.

Author: Mike Knaak

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