The Conversation

Harmon, a man concerned with togetherness, saw it in Sophia: the fear. He saw it in her name: so much fear. But that was beside the point. The point was to speak openly, to matters that were front and center, not these fanciful tidbits, undercurrents.

“We need to have a conversation about justice,” Sophia brightly declared.

Harmon was hesitant. “Well, yes, of course. Though I think it’s really about social cooperation, plus economics, philanthropy, about having the conversation that brings different sides to the table.”

Sophia scratched her head and furrowed her brow. Consternation–twitchy, nervous consternation.

“Why do you do that with your hands?” This was Lefty, on the periphery of friendship, niggling at Harmon. Lefty was so-named because he came at things sideways, liked to observe that which happens in silence, detached from intellect.

“It enhances my point,” replied Harmon curtly. His hands, aloft and frozen, had been rotating vertically, moving the air.

“I…I don’t really know what you mean. I mean, sure–it’s about cooperation, and economics–but I think certain things need to be acknowledged. I think some things speak for themselves, and it’s not about whether people give things. It’s about how things are divided, about poverty and inequality.”

“Yes, all these contexts are important, but I think you have to be careful on these subjects. You can’t just come at people bluntly–the way you want to. It makes people defensive.” Harmon, on precise cue, delivered a sweet smile. Sophia, diffident yet brave, soldiered on, shaking her head.

“I don’t know…I just think we need to be honest, not have some kind of dance–this ‘cooperation’ as you call it. It’s important. People are getting hurt, being traumatized. People are dying.”

Harmon stretched out his arm and held his palm upwards. “Sure. But see, it’s not a zero sum game, social justice versus cooperation. It can be both if you take an even-handed approach.”

“What does that one mean?” asked Lefty, eyeing hands studiously. Harmon cut him a sideways look; ignored him and continued. “Words like justice are…” he paused “…inflammatory. You have to build slowly, assert an agenda but one that seems inclusive, doesn’t alienate with tendentious language.”

Sophia’s reply was brittle. “I think this is disingenuous. If we bring people to the table, have this conversation, it needs to start with some understandings. We need to say to one side, ‘look, you’re in the one-up position. The onus is upon you to acknowledge that, at least–”

“They’ll know you want more than acknowledgement. That word is disingenuous also.” This wasn’t like Harmon to interrupt. His face and tone hardened. Lefty noticed, smiled.

“Well, sure. That’s right: I–we–would want more than acknowledgement. That’s just where it would start: agreeing that things aren’t equal.”

“They won’t necessarily agree with you.”

“They should.”

Harmon winced, and his hands came together, though only at the fingertips. They barely touched.

“And that one?” Lefty asked.

“Look, shut up,” spat Harmon. Lefty burst into laughter while Harmon turned on him bitterly. “If you don’t have anything meaningful to say, then why are you here?” An awkward silence followed: Harmon sat back, embarrassed. His reasonable front had been broken. Sophia leaned forward and sulked.

“You’re missing it,” said Lefty finally. He’d become serious all of a sudden. “The conversation won’t happen talking about justice, or cooperation in the way you’re talking about it. The problem is with the people–all of them. They don’t really listen to each other. They don’t know how.”

Harmon shook his head. Sophia’s face clouded over. She turned to Harmon: “Whatever. We need to continue this conversation.”

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