Bearing Witness in the Heartland is a journal-style news blog dedicated to recording the more important news events and changes occurring within our country and to our planet – some hopeful but many fretful – as seen from a rural community outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, United States. This region, not far from the confluence of the two great rivers of the world, the Mississippi River and Missouri River, is often thought of affectionately (and occasionally negatively) as the “heartland” of our country, even to those who only know it by flying high above from coast to coast.
The term “bearing witness” has deep roots and meaning in culture, religion, politics, health, and psychology. While each of these disciplines may lay claim to their own definition, the historic meaning of to bear witness is to show that something exists by giving it visibility through the simple act of observing it and acknowledging our reactions to it. More recently it has been used as a form of peaceful protest to register opposition with one’s presence and words. Take as example this passage from global conservationist Sir David Attenborough in “A Life on our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future”:
“I fear for those who will bear witness in the next 90 years, if we continue living as we are doing at present.”
The courage to publicly bear witness, and speak truth to power despite the consequences, has helped countless nations, individuals, organizations, and even businesses to evolve by confronting the consequences of their decisions, individually and collectively. If we cannot confront our differences and agree on some level of facts, truth, and history how can we ever learn and evolve from our mistakes as an individual, community, country, or species? Or much less earn empathy for the context of others occasionally making mistakes in their own judgment, action, and contemplation.
I am reminded of the importance of not just speaking truth, but bearing witness to it from Hannah Arendt, the author of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” who coined the term “banality of evil” and who would later pen the following in “Lying in Politics” from Crises of the Republic in 1972. She writes:
“The historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life; it is always in danger of being perforated by single lies or torn to shreds by the organized lying of groups, nations, or classes, or denied and distorted, often carefully covered up by reams of falsehoods or simply allowed to fall into oblivion. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.” (Hannah Arendt)
As either a curse or grace of aging, I have come to begrudgingly accept that I alone as an individual citizen cannot change or influence all the things I so deeply care about. More often or not the only thing I can do with confidence is simply to observe what is happening and testify to how I feel about it to serve as therapy.
“There are times when you must speak, not because you are going to change the other person, but because if you don’t speak out, they have changed you.” (Unknown.)
That has become my personal tonic during an era that some call fact-free and post-truth, all while others act as if there are no consequences to their actions or the evil of good men and women keeping silent when they should speak or protest.
“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” (Congressman John Lewis)
While this is a personal blog, it is most definitely not about “me”. I am not the story and who I am or my qualifications to speak out, or not, is of little consequence. This blog is not publicity-seeking social media and my aim is not to influence or be an influencer. Nor do I worry about how many followers or readers Bearing Witness Heartland may or may not have as that is not why I feel compelled to write during these times.
Instead, my aspiration is simply to chronicle the political and environmental news from the beautiful heartland region of an increasingly fragile democracy on a stunningly rare planet orbiting a rather normal star in a galaxy of a several hundred billion other stars in a thirteen billion year old universe comprised of ten billion other galaxies with countless exoplanets we are just now discovering.
That view of humanity and the universe we inhabit always seems to put things into a calmer perspective no matter how sad the news of the day may be to which I am bearing witness.
In closing I have learned so much more about “bearing witness” from my wife’s faith, support and love. I am forever indebted to her for the evolution of my own world view and values, and thus the expansion of my heart, spirit, and soul.