The events in Charlottesville last summer are now part of history, but a local couple is doing something they hope will prevent future fights. They’ve launched – a multi-media effort called the Beliefs Project to help people understand and talk with those who have different views.
Jeff Burger grew up in western Maryland, in a rural community where as far as he knew there were no people of color and no one from another country.
“I think I used to believe that people who didn’t speak English were stupid," he recalls. "That’s a horrible thing to say now, but 20 years ago I think I probably had that thought. Then I went to Guatemala for a week. I was the stupid one.”
His wife, Misa Hopkins, has also learned about discrimination. She’s part native American and has an adopted daughter who’s Hispanic. Lately she and Burger have been talking a lot about how to defuse the anger that erupted in their hometown.
“How to have the conversation with my mom, who has completely different beliefs than I do, how to sit down with my partner. He’s Republican. I’m Democrat. How do I talk to him?” she explains.
The answer might begin with more questions:
“Do beliefs have me, or do I have them?" Hopkins asks. "Did I just accept these beliefs, or are they really what I think about life and how I feel about the world? Are your beliefs based in fear or love? And do you know? If you have a fear-based belief, it is probably creating chaos in your life and making it difficult for you to communicate and to receive other people.”
To convey that message, Burger – who’s a musician and multi-media producer – created a video that combines powerful images of protest and hate with the song he composed.
He and Hopkins also created a website, and they’re working on a film and book that will share ideas from various thought leaders on how to cope when beliefs collide. They send a weekly e-mail called the Monday Morning Motivator – a saying that promotes respect and compassion for others.
“Ask someone about one of their beliefs,” one e-mail suggests. “Ask them what they value about it. Notice if that is something you value too. Consider just listening. There’s no need to get into a dialogue or debate. Notice what happens when all you do is ask, listen and consider.”