Widening Our Circle

Recently, I experienced one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve had in a long time. We were hosting a workshop for community leaders in San Antonio called Fostering Belonging. Ben McBride from the Empower Initiative led the workshop. At one point, he arranged the chairs in the room into a pyramid—one chair at the top, six or seven at the back. He said, “The pyramid is the City of San Antonio. I want each of you to sit in the place you think you belong.”

Where to go? I wondered. Do I move to where I feel I belong? Or do I move to where I think other people think I belong? Here I am, the president and CEO of the H. E. Butt Foundation, hosting this event in a room full of important local community leaders. People who I admire and respect. People who work on the front lines of some of the most challenging issues in our city. They know who I am, and they know what family I married into. I felt I had only one choice: I sat at the top of the pyramid, the place for the privileged and the powerful.

Of course, our conversation covered all sorts of ground, not limited to the person who sat at the top of that pyramid. We talked about things we never talk about with each other. Funding. Wealth. Financial inequity. Many of the tensions that exist across our city and our nation. Conversations like this usually happen in echo chambers. Rooms where everyone looks about the same or thinks about the same.

This was no echo chamber, and Ben didn’t rescue me—or any of us—from the tension. It was awkward. And we just sat in the awkwardness. People said things that were hard to hear. I was stunned by everyone’s openness. And I am so grateful for Ben. He created a context that made the hard conversation possible. And he trusted us—and we all trusted each other—to have that conversation.

Nationally, we’re dealing with deep divisions. Locally, too. Not just politics. There are deep divisions in the structure of our community. Big gaps in opportunity and investment have existed in my home city of San Antonio and throughout our nation for decades.

For the last five years, the H. E. Butt Foundation has helped San Antonio consider new possibilities and opportunities in our city. It starts with knowing our neighbor, especially the neighbor who lives one or two ZIP codes away.

It starts with knowing our neighbor, especially the neighbor who lives one or two ZIP codes away.

In October, we hosted a luncheon featuring Ben McBride at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. You can read about it in this issue of Echoes. He challenged us to “widen the circle of human concern”—an idea he explores in his new book, Troubling the Water: The Urgent Work of Radical Belonging.

Each of us has our own circle of human concern—who we notice and who we don’t notice. Some concerns will resonate with us on a personal level more than others. And each of us has the opportunity to widen our own circle of human concern, to include more people. No matter our differences, we often find that our hopes overlap. We can join in tough but worthwhile conversations, just like the ones I had during the pyramid exercise. And often, those conversations are the start of new understanding that can lead to change.

Who is in your circle of human concern? How can you make your own circle wider? I think that’s what each of us is called to do, and we’re called to do it together.

Read more from this issue

Know Your Neighbor: Rain or Shine

For Ben McBride—speaker at this year's Know Your Neighbor Luncheon—knowing his neighbors meant moving to the "kill zone."

A Simple Request

How House of Faith built community by doing less.

Coming Home to the Canyon

Melissa Lemire thought her time as a camper had ended, but Laity Lodge Family Camp called her home to the Canyon 24 years later.

Is this Lady Lodge?

"I just wanted to ask: Can men come here?"