While it may seem otherwise, especially with the way we report our news, people can and do change. These changes come when our minds are open, and our minds are open when our hearts are open. And we know how to open our hearts. We do that, of course, with love.
I’ve often wondered if maybe we don’t have it in us to change fundamentally – to change our minds, that is. We get so stuck and stubborn about being right, so resistant to consider that we might not be seeing things clearly or accurately, that we’re unwilling to consider another perspective. We like to be right and avoid being wrong, often regardless of the cost. But sometimes, the discovery that we’ve been wrong can be really great news. It can mean that our fear and anger are not needed, and that Love is prevailing.
Too often our minds run the show. When our minds are closed—by fear, or anger, or ignorance, we get stuck in our ways. But when our heart is open, we’re more willing to open our minds, because we’re unafraid.
Several years ago, Kevin and I spent a week at a youth leadership camp in rural Texas. Kevin did a keynote, I facilitated a workshop, and we both served as family group advisers. As we prepared to travel down there, Kevin told me about this area we were going, where he’d spent a few summers in his early 20s. This is the town where the KKK was extraordinarily active in decades past. This is the the same area as the camp where Kevin worked summers in college, where he eventually realized that whenever an African American staff camp counselor arrived, he would immediately find himself assigned to work in the kitchen, if not dismissed. At meal times, among the many varied and often silly songs and rhymes the campers would recite, Kevin heard them shout nightly, “1-2-3, Robert E Lee! 3-2-1, The South should’ve won!” The same region where on at least one summer night each year, Kevin saw them set a cross on fire, and he was told that no, it didn’t mean what he thought it meant… it was just tradition. And they did not take kindly to Kevin asking questions.
With this background, I was not excited to get there. And although the memories Kevin shared were over 20 years old, I was nervous about being there openly as a couple with Kevin. We weren’t married yet at the time, but everyone knew we were together, and it didn’t occur to me to try to hide it. What would we see? So I arrived on guard, assuming, these people are ignorant, racist, homophobic, and I’m going to have to find a way to stand my ground, and speak up if confronted by hatred.
On the road into the hill country, we pulled up in front of a small general store. “I remember this place!” Kevin said. We got out to buy some bottles of water and some snacks. And as we walked toward the door, we paused to look at a grouping of bills and notices. There in the center of this bulletin board in red rural Texas was flyer for a local chapter of PFLAG. It wasn’t brand new. It had been there a while, which means no one had taken it down.“I can’t believe that’s there,” Kevin said. “That’s so great. That’s incredible.”
We had a great time at the camp. The kids were terrific, the staff was dedicated, kind, and respectful. None of my fears materialized there. Where I had expected judgement, or a sense that we were being at best respectfully “tolerated”, we found instead that everyone seemed delighted that we were there.
At the end of the week, they had a dance night. There was a hall for the kids, and an adjacent room where most of the adults and staff congregated for snacks and music and dancing. During a slow song, Kevin and I danced together. I felt a little self-conscious about that. Who’s watching? What are they thinking? Are they whispering about us?
A little while later, one of the other staff people approached Kevin. He said, “My parents were very active and high up in the Arian Nation. I was taught to hate people like you. Tonight, I stood here and watched you two dance together, and I thought it was beautiful.”
Before I realized that I was gay, I tried really hard to be what I thought I was supposed to be. For a time that included going along with what I thought I was supposed to say and think. I remember one day, I was riding in car with my best friend, Dorothy. We were just out of high school. And I don’t know how or why it came up, but we were talking about gays and lesbians and I said (I remember this so clearly) I “The thought of two men being together it just makes me sick.” I did not really feel that way at all., but I thought I “should.” I had heard other people say that, and I was still deep in denial about my orientation. But Dot would have none of it. She called me out immediately. “Well, I think it’s beautiful!” she said.
I knew she was right. It broke through something that had kind of hardened over me. I said to her right then and there, “You know, you’re right. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re right.” It did not break through my denial (and in fact… I went on to marry Dorothy, which is a story for another day). But God, I admired her so much for speaking up. She always spoke from the heart, and it was always with kindness and love first – more so than anyone else I’d ever met up that point. She was fiercely loving. She got into my head by going through the heart.
My husband, Kevin, is a professional speaker. He talks about love and kindness. He tells jokes and funny stories. He entertains people, and in the process he aims to open hearts and minds, and encourage people to choose to love. It’s a good gig. He loves it, and I love working with him.
A few years ago, I was with Kevin in a town outside Atlanta. On the way there, Kevin told me that he’d spoken in this town at a specific conference for many consecutive years, and that had stopped when someone told a meeting planner that Kevin was gay. Now here we were again, same town, different conference. Kevin delivered a keynote for a few hundred adults who work with kids. It went really well, and after that he presented a diversity workshop for 60 or so people.
That was interesting to watch. In a conference room at the hotel, this apparent “old white guy” stood in front of an audience of about 70% African Americans to talk about diversity, and to facilitate an experience called Aspects of Identity. It was moving. People were shaken and stirred, as they usually are from the experience. The audience laughed and applauded Kevin’s stories, and an hour later they were filing out.
I like to hang out in the back, like a roadie, observing. And it’s typical for me to see a handful of people linger after a program to say hello to Kevin, to shake his hand or take a selfie. That day, the last such person was a woman about my age. From the back of the room, I saw Kevin hug her.
“Wait, wait,” she said. Kevin’s a hugger. It’s a good trait, and people often want to hug him, but maybe he jumped the gun a little this time. But she wasn’t upset.
“I wanted to tell you,” she said, “I really enjoyed your keynote, and this workshop, and I thought it was all wonderful. And then you referred to this young man as your husband and I… I didn’t like your program anymore. I thought, I don’t like any of this, in fact, I changed my mind: I didn’t really like your keynote either, and I just shut down. I couldn’t listen to you anymore. But I was in the middle of a row, and I couldn’t leave, so I felt stuck there, and I didn’t want to be here anymore. So I prayed. And God said to me, ‘Here is where you change.’ And I realized I have been wrong to judge you. I never thought I could accept gay people, and when you talked about acceptance and love, I… heard it in a way that I have never heard before.”
It was a beautiful moment. We talked about it as we went back to our room, where we packed up our suitcases. It was early afternoon now, and we were going to head back toward Atlanta for our flight. While we were putting our suitcases in the rental, a car pulled up and stopped in the street beside us, and the man driving said, “Are you the keynote speaker?”
Kevin said he was, and approached the car.
“Well, I’ve got to tell you, you did something to my wife. She’s not a talker, and she was at your keynote yesterday, and she came home talking, she went to bed talking, and she woke up talking. We have a young grandson that we have not seen in a while. My wife has not been on speaking terms with our daughter because our grandson is transgender, and our daughter supports him in his gender identity. I’ve been kind of ok with it, but my wife has really had a hard time. She said you talked about your daughter? How she came to live with you as a boy, but identified as a girl and… my wife called our daughter and now we have dinner plans with them. She wants to reconcile. Thank you.”
On a regular basis, Kevin and I get to see that when we touch the heart, we reach also the mind, and we do so way more effectively than when we try to get through purely on the level of mind.
People do have dramatic changes of heart. Minds do open. Love does perform miracles. And what we do, the kindness we show each other, and our dedication to authenticity, to speaking our truth with love, matters. It matters. It makes real, positive, important changes in the world, even when we don’t get to see the changes… because every change of heart changes the world.