Last Wednesday, Caleb Matthews was strolling along Ohio Street in downtown Indianapolis when he noticed a small crowd across the street. They were chanting loudly, holding signs and drawing attention to their cause: Protecting people who rely on health insurance and Medicaid from the proposed changes of the American Health Care Act (which was recently renamed the Better Care Reconciliation Act by the Senate).
He noticed that one protestor wore a t-shirt with a head shot of Donald Trump, his eyes X’ed-out and the phrase, “Not my president!” Another held a poster in the shape of a gravestone that read, “RIP GOP!” A woman behind a megaphone led the group in chant: “A city united will never be divided!”
Caleb thought about what he was seeing play out before him — a group of people who disagreed with the actions of one arm of government uniting to stand up for what they believe is right.
That, he could support.
The t-shirt, gravestone and protest I mentioned? Those, he could not.
He crossed the street to join the crowd on the sidewalk in front of the Birch Bayh Federal Building and began talking with protestors. He wasn’t rude or disrespectful. He didn’t attempt to shame or shun. He simply started asking questions.
What are you protesting? And why? What is it about your life and experiences that makes you believe what you do?
He genuinely wanted to know the answers.
I was there to photograph the event, and toward the end, I grabbed a photo of Caleb as he was talking with Ryan Emerson Graves, one of the protestors. Then we began to talk.
The health care die-in/protest event Ryan and a few dozen others had been attending was sponsored in part by one of our clients, the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), a group of people of many faiths who fight for social justice.
Caleb wanted to know about IndyCAN, what it stood for and who was involved.
Because of the topic, the protest and the people involved, the conversation quickly and naturally navigated toward politics, religion and even homosexuality.
The remarkable thing about the conversation, though, wasn’t the fact that we were talking about divisive topics. It was the fact that we were talking about these divisive topics in a calm, caring and compassionate way.
The three of us agreed on some things and disagreed on others. But because of Caleb’s calm demeanor and genuine interest in both sides of the story, and Ryan’s open mind and open heart, I knew from the time I joined their conversation that we could all safely say what we believe, knowing it would not result in backlash.
“I voted for Trump, and maybe these people here today didn’t. We disagree," Caleb said. "But I can’t make assumptions about them, and they can’t make assumptions about me. We have to stop prejudging everyone.”
The lines between liberal and conservative, Republicans and Democrats are too hard, too divisive. Too many people feel misunderstood or feel like they are being attacked by those who disagree with their points of view, he said.
“I wish we could just come together and talk.”
Absolutely — but to see real change, Ryan added, we must love one another.
“Love isn’t a liberal or conservative thing,” he said. “Look at what Jesus did. Everything he did or said was wrapped in love. He was able to look at the actual heart of the person. And the only way we can do that is to have conversations.”
Conversations like the one I was having with Caleb and Ryan. It’s a conversation I’ll remember for a long time — because it wasn’t one of me versus you, but one of finding ways to love one another without judgment, despite our disagreements.
That’s a hard challenge in our world today. But it’s worth it.
Ryan Emerson Graves, left, and Caleb Matthews demonstrated that approaching a difficult conversation with genuine care can result in compassion and kindess instead of judgment and divide.