On the Road to DC: Boulder, CO (2) — Frank Alexander is director of the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services—an agency whose work is often celebrated by the left and impugned by the right. In a state where 80% of the local elected officials at the county commissioner level are Republicans and 20% are Democrats, Frank’s department has had to bridge these two different mindsets. Here are some excerpts describing their approach.
“We look at things like welfare as a handout because we’re so attached as humans to our concept of being better than the other. We’re so attached to our sense of superiority—we’re intellectually superior; we’re financially superior—that we see people who are struggling as inferior. And so we look for the simple explanation that justifies our sense of superiority.
“If we continue to justify our own sense of superiority by demonizing the other, the separation between ‘us and them’ grows, and our ability to justify decisions that will harm the other increases because we don’t see its impact on us.
“But if we reduce that separation, then we realize that the harm that we are perpetrating by our continued ability to bury problems is going to come back to us. And I think that’s what we’ve been really trying to do here, is change that dynamic.”
Combining brutal honesty with unbelievable optimism
“There’s a paradox that has driven a lot of my life’s work. On one hand, we have to be brutally honest about what’s actually happening. We can’t delude ourselves as to the actual things that are occurring in our world and in our communities and ourselves right now. There’s got to be a level of science and evidence and brutal honesty.
“At the same time there has to be an unbelievable level of optimism and hope. Those two things together can allow us to move forward.”
Doing work for one another
“I do believe what’s going to be required is that more of us have to be focused on alleviating the suffering of each other. I don’t think there’s a pathway to greater understanding and awareness without actually doing work for one another.
“One of my favorite phrases is, ‘I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.’ We don’t get to take any of this with us. All we’re doing is borrowing it. Whose lessons are you taking from those who came before you? Who are you learning from, and what are you doing while you’re here, and what are you leaving for the people coming up behind you?
“I think it’s so basic. We’ve gotten away from the basics.”
We’re at the ‘risk point’
“Everybody makes a decision at some point whether they’re going to hang in through the conflict, or not. And I think it feels like right now we’re at the risk point. The level of disgust is so high that people are not hanging in there with each other through their disagreements. And they’re using that excuse to further disengage or further demonize or further be disgusted with one another, as if the other somehow is the manifestation of all things evil and we’re the manifestation of all things good.
“I think we have to reverse that process, because there is nothing there for us. I mean, that is a wasteland.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of strong leadership from people. People are going to have to become a much greater version of themselves to get us through this.”