Saturday, September 8, 2012

...on agreeing to disagree

A photo taken after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 showed a statue by J. Seward Johnson, "Double Check", covered in ash and papers blown from the destroyed buildings. In the days that followed the tragedy, passers-by placed flowers between the arms in memory of  loved ones who died.  Mementos of the firemen and police were propped on and about the statue. Eventually "Double Check" was freshened up a bit by Johnson who kept the dings from the blast and returned to Liberty Plaza Park where it sits today, facing the site where the Towers once stood.

Johnson later cast a duplicate - with modifications - which now resides on the River Walk in Jersey City. Here's the story as told on a plaque at the base of what is now known as Makeshift Memorial: "Rescue workers in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedy got their only smile of the day when a 'victim' lifted from the rubble turned out to be a bronze sculpture by artist Steward Johnson. 'Double Check' (the statue) was set up amid the wreckage, becoming a makeshift memorial, as flowers and heartbreaking remembrances soon covered the piece. Deeply moved, Johnson reverently collected all the messages of love and cast them in bronze, and welded them to the piece exactly as he had found them one month after the tragedy."

Photo taken by Frank Sauer, 9/9/2012, River Walk, Jersey City, NJ
The story doesn't stop here. In time, Liberty Plaza Park became Zuccotti Park, the base for Occupy Wall Street. The statue of a businessman sitting with an open briefcase was mocked as a symbol of capitalism. A mask was tied over the eyes and trash stuffed in the open briefcase. But this bane of art critics and protesters alike has been spiffied up once again. This is a tale of two statues and even more questions.

Sara Hacala writes in her book, Saving Civility: "There is perhaps no situation in which the words 'with all due respect' are more pertinent, and indispensable, than in matters of disagreement. Conflict is an inherent part of life, in virtually every arena - among individuals, families, business, governments, and countries. As a result, the ability to disagree respectfully is essential for getting along and negotiating with other people, as well as building consensus and compromise. The act of disagreeing is not the problem per se; it's the manner in which it is conducted that exacerbates tensions. Because the very nature of conflict is to be at odds with an opposing party, discussion and debate are often ripe for and rife with incivility, impeding resolution of the issue at hand.

She continues: "Just imagine how different life would be if each of us learned to disagree in a respectful manner - less acrimony, fewer bruised feelings, and lower levels of stress, greater insight, understanding, harmony, and efficiency; greater productivity; increased chances to build consensus, alliances, and compromise; a platform to support potential solutions; diminished belligerence and warmongering; and more opportunities for peaceful exchange."

And asks this: "To begin, before you are enmeshed in any conflict, it helps to honestly examine your mind-set and motivations: Are you genuinely prepared to discuss points of view and alternatives with a willingness to compromise, or are you on a crusade to win at all costs? Do you want to thoughtfully air and resolve an issue, or do you want to crush the other party? The answer to those questions may determine whether or not you intend or will be able to disagree respectfully...Remember that disagreement is a normal part of life; our agility and skill in disagreeing respectfully can make all the difference in how we connect with one another - or not - as individuals, communities, and countries. We have the strength and power to rise above, rather than blame, the limitations of human nature."

First one statue, then another. Each a memorial for some, a symbol of contempt for others. Disliked by art critics. Perhaps the true gift lies in the questions these markers raise...and in the hope that we will look for better answers in all our relationships.


Manita Lewis said...

I love this one. Civility. It is the essence of civilization.

Celeste said...

We're all neighbors on a small planet.

Celeste Bracewell said...

I’ve searched the web for the origin of the post 9/11 photo of the statue and cannot find an attribution.