Kicking Kumbaya

February 9, 2013

Recently I met with a group from a nonprofit about funding their program. An issue arose about the focused nature of their efforts, and one of their board members–a fine fellow and a friend–quickly noted the fact that they don’t “just sit around and sing Kumbaya.” I took umbrage, right away, asking “what’s wrong with that?”

Somewhere, somehow, Kumbaya became the whipping boy for people who are not really serious about what they’re doing! In 2010 a nice little piece in the New York Times (A Long Road From Here to “Kumbaya”) detailed the history of the song and how it gets denigrated now. Interesting, especially, is the fact that all sides in the world of “important” people doing “important” things use the song to distinguish themselves and their grown up, “important” work from the naive people who hold hands and sing songs.

Well … every time I see a picture of Speaker John Boehner, surrounded by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the boys, I think about children playing “grown-ups.” Smug and self-satisfied, offering yet another set of proclamations or demands based on contempt for what their fellow travelers in the Bush II White House called “the reality-based community.” (I also wonder, often, if Eric and the boys are there because they like to see themselves on television, or because one or more of them have shivs pressed against the Speaker’s spine to remind him that his job depends on their mercy. Close call, and maybe the answer is “both reasons.”) Adults doing important work? I think not.

Anyway, I totally appreciate the need for more than “feel good” experiences if accomplishments are the goal, and I know lots of groups can get lost in the weeds. That said, if the “weeds” are a campfire with decent people bonding with one another, or a class of people–mostly men–who think the people’s business gets accomplished with pronouncements and the daily photo-opp behind the podium in the blue suit with the white shirt and the red tie and the flag pin and the slicked back hair and the shit-eating grin or the serious grimace, gimme the campfire and Kumbaya!

P.S. From all of the evidence I have seen to date, the group with which we met walks the talk! Nothing in this post is intended to put them–or my friend–down in any way.

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