Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mending Bridges

A Different Spin
03 Feb 2012
by Daphne Iking

WHILST many of my Chinese friends ushered the year of the Water Dragon with ang pow, lion dances and firecrackers galore, I was playing mediator for the ex-wife of someone dear to me.

Both of them found it hard to communicate without getting into some form of horrible argument — clich├ęd, I know, but to cut the long story short, the job was thrust on me to handle, and I obliged.

As I sat down, slightly uncomfortable observing the whole fiasco taking place while the two made civil attempt to get matters moving, it got me thinking of an article I read some time ago about George Haley, a young African-American who was given the daunting task of fostering integration and improving race relations at a Southern university in the US during the early 1950s.

These are two completely different scenarios, I know, but it did get me thinking about this brilliant lad who persevered through some tough times. While reading law at the University of Arkansas, George had to endure horrendous acts of racism, including having a bag of urine thrown in his face and facing daily verbal insults.

George had the deepest respect for his father, a college professor and pioneer in Negro education, and George was determined to study in a place where blacks were still not welcomed upon reading a letter written to him by his father.

The letter read, “Segregation won’t end until we open beachheads wherever it exists. The Governor of Arkansas and educational officials have decided upon a quiet tryout of university integration. You have the needed scholastic record and temperament, and I understand that Arkansas has one of the South’s best law schools. I can arrange your admission if you accept this challenge.”

George took the dare and never turned back although there were times when he felt defeated.

Back to the story of the exes, despite it being the ex-wife’s move to get my initial help to talk to her ex-spouse, I was wary and could feel the animosity since I was in “his camp”. It got me thinking about my own divorce and how things were between my ex and I.

Funny how Ryan and I can laugh about it now although I remember a time when it was no laughing matter and our mutual friends were torn to choose sides.

I never asked them to, but I knew it was difficult for them to be friends with both. To be quite honest, it still is no laughing matter, but I’ve learnt to handle the critics and harsh opinions better now.

There is a Chinese proverb that tells us “if you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” I agree.

Had I retaliated, the bickering would have never stopped and at the end of the day there would be no winners. Just unhappy, bitter folks.

I remember being taunted with name-calling and threats. I recall succumbing to depression and had fleeting thoughts of killing myself, but I thank the heavens above for sweet angels around me who made me see things from another perspective.

As someone told me, God puts people in your life for a reason, and removes them from your life for a better reason.

When my friend’s ex-wife told me she thanked Allah for the new girl in her ex’s life because “now he has finally agreed to divorce me and I can move on with my life,” I reminded her gently about the blessings in their previous marriage because without him, she would have never met her two beautiful children.

George Haley had walked the thin edge of violence when he accepted his father’s challenge to study in a community where African-Americans were still discriminated against.

When he began to worry that the degrading treatment might be destroying him and his concentration in his studies, he shared his problems to his father.

His father answered, “Always remember that they act the way they do out of fear. They are afraid that your presence at the university will somehow hurt it, and thus their own education and chance in life. Be patient with them. Give them a chance to know you and to understand that you are no threat.” And George did just that.

In his last year of law, it was a time of triumph not just for George, but also for the white students who were able to discard their own preconceptions.

He truly believes that improving race relations is at least 50% of simple communication. And I agree.

In retrospect, many problems happen because of miscommunication — when one stops listening or assumes the worst of another because it is easier to swallow reality that way. I’ve had my share of hearing but not listening, but perhaps age has wisen me up a little and I’m no longer that girl who wants to fight and defend herself, just for the sake of it.

As Kenny Rogers would put it, “Sometimes, you don’t have to fight to be a man.” Thank you God for all my bittersweet moments.

Daphne still faces the occasional tussle but has George E Bergman’s motto to keep her going. “No one ever ruined his eyesight by looking at the brighter side of life.” Daphne can be reached at or through twitter @daphCLPT.

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