Sometimes it is in the simplicity of life that we can become the most complex. Not because the answer is difficult to understand, but because we choose not to deal with the difficulty of the question. It is easier to fill a conversation with noise than make the decisions that challenge our values. Add in political, cultural, or class polarization and you can have years of meetings, that resemble the old feuds that caused dismay, long past the memory of the offense.

The offense that I refer to is people panhandling on Broadway, partying under the pavilion at Centennial Park, people sleeping in the park while realtors show the new condos nearby. These are an offense to the quality of life of the city, the community, and our neighbor citizens. This offense is real, costly, and we collectively choose to pay that cost.

I then wonder about the offense that has been caused to the panhandler, those gathering under the pavilion, or those people sleeping in the park. When did their community of support break down? When did their reality change? What offenses have they endured? Where is the offense to the rate of gentrification? How did we not hear them when they first cried out?

Is it possible, as a city, to design gatherings to specifically listen to all offended parties?

When we listen, we may hear of young adults that grew up in unstable environments and find the park a safer place to live than their home. People finding family more welcoming in tent encampments than neighborhoods.

We may hear from young adult entrepreneurs who are investing their dreams and resources through a downtown business that provides for their future family.

We may hear of a senior who moved to the city for cancer treatment and could not afford housing in the city of the hospital that would serve him. A senior inspiring other as he fights for his health and housing.

We may hear of another senior buying a condo in downtown Nashville in order to have quality time with their children and grandchildren. A couple that has always given through their faith community but is challenged by the behavior towards their family on a Saturday afternoon.

We will hear frustration from police officers who recognize that there is sludge in policy and practice when confronted daily by our neighbor citizens with different histories and hopes.

Can you hear it? I can and have for more than twenty years. This feud that polarizes neighbors in a conclusion of differences instead of the unity of a community. If we are going to feud, let us feud together. It is better than simply adding to the noise.

The simple solution is to see and hear each other so that together we might design our quality of life. The solution is simple. The work is hard. But, Tennesseans are rightfully known for working hard.

Might we consider a “Quality of Life District” that purposefully brings forth citizens, public service workers, and policymakers through creative conflict? Might we share our journey with one another? Might we acknowledge our individual and community quality of life goals? Might we respect each other’s humanity?

I am offended. I trust you are.

Might we join together in this Fight for Good?

Give me a call (615-933-9305). Let us enjoy the simple solution of listening to each other over a cup of coffee.

Contributor:  Major Ethan Frizzell serves as the Area Commander of The Salvation Army.  The Salvation Army has been serving in Middle TN since 1899.  A graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, his focus is the syzygy of the community culture, the systems of service, and the lived experience of our neighbors. He uses creative abrasion to rub people just the wrong way so that an offense may cause interaction and then together we can create behaviorally designed solutions to nudge progress. Simply, negotiating the future for progress that he defines as Quality of Life in Jesus! 

Misty Ratcliff