It is probably no coincidence that that in 2018, we find ourselves wrestling with a legacy of moral ambiguity precisely at a time when many want things to be black and white. And yet we are weary of divisive media coverage and divisive politics.
Our citizenry and politicians are shying further and further away from complexity, subtly, explorations of unintended consequences, empathy for differing beliefs, and compromise. We want easy answers, we want them now, and we want those answers to support our world view. If they aren’t and they don’t, then the media is lying to us, politicians are all crooks, the courts are politicized, and Fox News viewers are untrustworthy.
However, I see hope abounding in the work of artists through their ability to embrace the complexity of human experience. For example Kai Ito and Andrew Keiper, whose exploration of Hiroshima, After Image Requiem at the War Memorial in Baltimore, hinges on their opposite personal experiences with the dropping of the atomic bomb. Kai’s grandfather experienced the horror on the ground, and Andrew’s grandfather was a part of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb for the United States. There are so many striking elements to this work, and many of them challenge attempts to polarize this historic event. Rich with personal and historic references, Requiem humanizes current conversations about nuclear war and the saber-rattling exchanges between North Korea and the United States.
It is a reminder of how important complicated, messy, thoughtful, uncomfortable, and agonizing dialogue are to the decision-making process. We as Americans should more highly value the ability of our leaders to listen in such muddy and dangerous times.