Dear Neighbor: Kim Porter: Words

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

By Kim Porter

Dear Neighbor,

Words mean a lot to me. You can do so much with them. You can rearrange them, select them, force them, even use them in such a way that they have lost their meaning.

Two sets of words come up often in the media and in daily conversation that force me to consider how I handle them in conversation: worry/concern and optimism/hope.

I hear “worry” and “optimism” used often when engaged with colleagues. I would like to challenge the use of them with “concern” and “hope.” This may sound a bit foolish but I strongly feel that how we communicate colors what we do, or not do. “Worry” and “optimism” are shallow and individualistic — not collective, like “concern” and “hope.”

Take the word “worry.” We all worry, don’t we? Whether it is politics, family issues, economics, tuition for school, grades, salary, children, relationships, budget, etc. If our modus operandi is to worry, then our life is stagnant. It is individualistic. It is self-centered. It is navel gazing. It is personal. It is mental anguish. It bogs you down. It is toxic. But, if your worry becomes concern, it involves others. It becomes “community.”

It is shared-ness. It seems more positive than negative. If I worry, I am saying “it is my task to handle it.” To some degree that can be selfish. Become concerned, become collective, become family, become togetherness. We owe it to the world to be concerned, not to just worry. That can become toxic. Concerned individuals are active and involved. They participate in the world, not just worry about what is happening.

They take worry and make it a concern.

Take the word optimistic. A few months ago, I was speaking to a group on civil disobedience/direct action. I shared my experiences about being detained, arrested and jailed. The initial question was “are you optimistic, did it change anything?” My response was “no” for most of my experiences. “Then why do you demonstrate/protest?” one questioned. First, because I have hope that raising the consciousness of society will keep the issue alive. And secondly and more important — I don’t just go and get arrested to change policies, but I do it because it is my value system, my ethic and it is important to me to collectively join others in voicing the injustices. It is one way to be hopeful. I don’t bitch about politics, I vote. I don’t grieve about city issues, I speak at city council. I don’t let unjust voices go unturned, nor do I forget to compliment those who work to make this a better community.

I try not to worry, but I definitely am a “concerned” citizen. Optimism is a chance thrown in the air, hope is a participatory action. I have hope because I participate in society, I see in the eyes of my colleagues that we can do things in a hopeful way.

A super example is the Pride Festival each year. Years ago, a small group of LGBTQ+ adults formed Salisbury Pride to support, educate and raise the level of consciousness about that specific community. I am sure some thought this may be painful, even unsafe. That had to be a worry. But, it soon became a concern — they didn’t buy into the negative. They pushed aside the toxic, and raised the conscious level of our community.

And one outgrowth is a yearly festival, where thousands attend. And at least one weekend a year, someone can say “thank you for providing a safe place for me to be myself” (as a teenager said to me while leaving the festival). Today, our community has hope because they moved from being somewhat optimistic to being hopeful.

I cannot be hopeful without participating in our community. Nor can I let “worry” destroy my life. I must have “concern” about all injustices. And for me, that means I must support, participate and join this community with time, energy and passion.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.