March 13


Words of a Pioneer – Jim Toy


Few men have had the historical impact of Jim Toy. He walked with the Reverend Martin Luther King, is a pioneer in LGBT activism and education, and was one of the original workers from the University of Michigan LGBT Center (founded nearly 25 years).

Jim had a unique ability to push civil rights movements forward with quiet diligence and serving at pivotal moments of history. Throughout this blog, I will be quoting Jim Toy. He spoke about: “Transforming Societal Paradigms” at TEDx in Ann Arbor.

In the words of TEDx, Jim has “dedicated his life to defying old institutions of prejudice and discrimination, transforming the way that we think of an individual.” We’d all be a bit better in our own lives if we listened to his life’s lessons.

“All my life I’ve been expected to follow rules— the rules that society uses to try to govern my feelings and my thinking and my behavior.

I’ve found some of these rules to be and unjust and unhealthy—and I’ve challenged them.

I’m inviting us to consider challenging the rules and paradigms and policies and mantras that we’re expected to live by.

We’re expected to “follow the rules.” Let’s shift that paradigm: learn the rules—learn the written rules and learn the unwritten rules– because sometimes the unwritten rules are more important than the written ones. And then, with any particular rule, look at the pros and cons of following it, or ignoring it, or disobeying it.

For example, we disagree with someone? We learn that we should argue with them or debate them and “try to win.” Rather, when we find ourselves in a disagreement, we can engage in what I call “Peacemaking Dialogue.” It’s a concept and method of conversation put forward by the American Friends Service Committee.

We start from Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of “ahimsa.” “Ahimsa” means “do no harm.” “You are a person of human worth and dignity. I will not harm you while we are in conversation or afterwards, whether or not I agree with you.”

When someone disagrees with us or attacks us in a conversation, we must try to relate to them in a peacemaking way. We need to try to put ourselves in their world— their world of feeling, their world of values, their world of life experience.

First, we listen to the person who’s talking with us, then we attempt to affirm them in their human worth and dignity, then we try to respond to what we think we heard them say, whether they’re making a statement or asking a question. Actually, as we know, questions are often statements in disguise.

We listen, we affirm, we respond.

How do we listen? With our whole being—with our senses, with our intuition, with our mind, with our spirit.

Then, we must try to affirm the speaker in their humanity. This is essential—and it may be a challenge. We must try to find a connection to the speaker in the feelings or values or life experience that we may share with them.

Only after we’ve attempted to affirm the speaker do we try to respond to their question or statement. So often I’m tempted to skip the affirmation and jump immediately to my answer—to respond to what I think I’ve heard the speaker say. Actually, they’re more likely to remember my affirmation than my response: “Wow, the person I was talking with really listened to me!”

Note that the method of “Peacemaking Dialogue” can be extremely difficult to practice in a “family situation” because of our habitual ways of talking with family members.

Challenging received rules and paradigms and mantras will help us tap our creativity and our talents and realize our potential for helping to bring about a just and peaceful world. Our untapped_ resources are waiting. Let’s use them!”