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We should all learn the value of 'and'

I grew up in a world that didn't have much room for shades of gray. There were alternatives, and I needed to choose the right one! There wasn't much room for mixing things together.

My two brothers and I had difficult relationships because our worlds were so starkly divided -- divisions our parents encouraged and nurtured.

My oldest brother was the good-looking, popular boy who didn't use his potential. He could see it was better to get Bs and Cs. "You don't want to be an egg-head." My middle brother was the "slow" one; he went to special classes for reading "problems." He was consigned to the industrial arts track. And I was the smart one, the intellectual. Did I want to trade in my brain for mere good looks? If I could make the trade, wouldn't my brain just crumble away?

It was the same at school. Athletic boys didn't usually have good grades. The same was true for cute girls, though less extreme. They also tended to go for the B-C mix so they didn't stand out. Music-oriented boys ran track if they were at all athletic, but that wasn't very common.

Life was certainly predictable, but many interesting possibilities were far beyond the grasp of the pigeon-holed people of my era. I became the tough intellectual who ran against the popular grain. I questioned.

Eventually and gradually I learned that the most important word in our language is "and." I could be an intellectual and appreciate popular culture. I could be a smart person and enjoy other people's stories and struggles. Gradually I added blues and bluegrass to my classical musical interests. I gained an appreciation of the deep African roots of our American culture. And I became a more friendly person as I rounded off some of my own defensive sharp edges.

As I softened up, I realized it was time to give up the age-old struggles with my siblings before it was too late: Who did mother or father really love? Who was special? Who had it easy? Who had a better life?

Soon I realized that we just are who we are. And we have a lot more in common than a few rigid divisions of personality and life skills that were passed down to us from unaware parents.

Learning the value of "and" has applications everywhere. Buffalo's identity is an example. "Buffalo is a dying city. Give it up. Nobody is going to ever find the silver bullet."

The other way of saying it is this: "Buffalo is a city in serious transition. It has a lot of assets and problems. Gradually, as we keep on adding positive new additions, we will find ourselves in a better place. It takes creativity and time."

The Bass Pro waterfront struggle is a great example. Once Bass Pro saw what the Central Wharf offered, it abandoned the Aud. Of course, it would want to be on the waterfront. It appeared we were locked in a win-lose conflict. Sacrifice Bass Pro or destroy the wharf.

Whoever thought this struggle could be resolved positively? Bass Pro can be at the Aud and be on the waterfront. Somebody who does possibility thinking linked the ideas together. Solution: reconstruct some more old canals and bring the water to the Aud. So reconfigured, the Aud location turns out better than the Central Wharf position.

When things look difficult in your life and you hear yourself saying the word "or" too forcefully, change the "or" to "and," do a little creative thinking and notice how many of your problems are resolved.

Rev. Timothy Ashton is a minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst.

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