I’ve been asked of late why I’ve been relatively silent on many of the major issues of the day. It’s something I’ve been thinking on a lot over the last year. What is the best/right way for me to bring my own intention, voice and lens to the world of social justice.
It’s not that I look at any one issue and say “not my fight,” it’s more that I look at them all and say, “they’re about the human condition, I’m human, so they’re all my fight.” So, the question in my mind has been, what do I do with that? How do I share energy and guidance and support in a way that is both meaningful and sustainable for me as one, feeling person with limited capacity?
Do I stake a claim in the election? In equality? In issues of gender, race, violence or grace? If so, how? And, to what end?
Truth is, anything I could have added has been said many times over. I have no interest in speaking just to have my position known. Or adding to the fray, unless it is contributing something unique or meaningful to the conversation.
But, there’s something else.
At least for now, a deeper voice is calling me to serve not by devoting myself to any one issue, but rather by enunciating a larger, well-defined ethos and cultivating a community built around that same set of values and beliefs that serves as a place of safety and support and nourishment for each person in the community to then deepen into whatever specific manifestation of their voice most strongly calls them.
So, I make it clear.
I stand for love.
I stand for compassion.
I stand for kindness.
I stand for dignity.
I stand for respect.
I stand for equality.
I stand for community.
Those who stand for that same ethos will find companionship and support not just from and with me, but from and with the community built around this ethos. Holding this container, at least for this moment, is my primary devotion. It’s the place I feel I can be most of service, while also being most able to sustain myself physically and emotionally.
The example of the Dalai Lama (who, of course, I in no way compare myself to) has been an influence for me. Rather than investing his energies in any singular cause, he stands for kindness and compassion. From that place, a community has formed, that serves as a source of strength for those who want to invest themselves in a specific manifestation of that ethos.
Might that change for me over time? I honestly don’t know. I’m human, deeply feeling and always exploring my own inner world and what my role is as I reflect on what I’m doing on any given day, as well as what I’m doing with my life.
All that said, anyone who knows me enough to care what I think, also knows me well enough to know for what I stand. If you care what I think, you know who I voted for. You know my thoughts on marriage and gender and race. You know my take on education, work and faith.
But, there’s another reason I’ve been quiet, beyond choosing to exalt an ethos and invest myself more broadly in supporting those who support it.
When I’ve looked at what’s happening around the major issues of the day, I’ve come to feel there’s been too much talking and not enough listening. And, all too often, talking for talking’s sake. Staking out positions, not as a way to open dialogue, but as a way to lay public claim to an idea.
And, I often feel like there’s been too much focus on the messengers and their messages and aspirations, and not enough on the conditions that led to the emergence of these human lightning rods.
In the context of the presidential election, for me, this has never been about Hillary or Donald. It has been about what Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters identified in the song “Us and Them” as “with, and without.” Trump won, in no small part, because he gave hope, a voice and a path to those who’ve felt profoundly without, those who’ve felt unseen, unheard, unvalidated, uninvited, to finally be seen, heard and embraced.
Trump’s very existence in the race was a manifestation of pain denied. He didn’t create the wound, he pried off the scab and poured salt on it. Then, said to his patient, “I’ve got a salve,” when so many others were saying, “you don’t exist.” Right, wrong, manipulative, constructive, red, blue, conservative, liberal, male, female? Yes to all.
No doubt, the outlets and expression of this newly stoked fear, division and suffering have rightly horrified many. But, at least now the depth and breadth of these world views has been revealed on a level that, until now, very few have wanted to see, acknowledge or engage with.
This process has been devastatingly painful. So many are grieving and need of a way to come home to hope. That same rawness, though, is also a spotlight and an invitation. It has laid bare this country’s true and divided soul for all to see. Including, you and me. And, along with that, it has opened a window of opportunity to finally have “the conversation.”
Not a one-liner, talking point, barrage of vitriolic takedowns built around egoic and political aspirations. But an actual dialogue, crafted around ideas, societal conditions, the state of suffering and creative avoidance that has left so many so wounded. One born not of talking at, but of talking with. And listening. And, seeing. And validating. Human to human. Had we all done that a long time ago, I wonder if we would be where we are now.
Yes, you may feel everything from profound sorrow to anger bordering on rage. Feel those. They are your truth in this moment. The last thing we need now is more pain denied or repressed. Let it breathe. Then, to the extent you can find the space, go one level deeper and ask, “how profound must the suffering have been to have led those who’ve voted in opposition to my beliefs to do what they’ve done?” Instead of looking for a fight, listen for understanding. Instead of focusing on difference and separation, see and seek sameness and connection. Instead of asking, “how could you?” ask, “who are you?”
That may be brutally hard to access in the heat of this moment. It may take time. That’s okay. The longer-term, healing path forward is not blame. It’s not rage or violence. It is not shame and degradation. It’s not digging in and deepening the divide. Even if you feel all these have been used as weapons against you.
The way home is what is, admittedly right now, an almost impossibly hard to muster compassion. If not for those who ran to lead, then for those whose wounds bled those would-be aspirants into existence, then led them to the outcome we’ve all come to experience. It is about seeing the humanity, the pain, the feelings of helplessness and anger and frustration. It’s about owning our role, your role, my role, in helping to create and unwittingly deepen the divide between with and without. Seen and unseen. Worthy and unworthy.
Aching as so many are, grieving a future that might have been, we have a glimmer of a window right now. To suspend our desire to pounce and, instead, listen. To see ourselves in someone who, maybe days ago, we saw through the lens of venom and contempt. And, maybe still do.
What if they were as terrified as us, and that’s why they chose how they chose? What if they loved their children as fiercely as we do, and that’s why they chose how they chose? What if they struggled to pay the rent and see a future worthy of living, and that’s why they chose how they chose? What if they mourned the loss and sanctity of community, family, integrity and possibility, and that’s why they chose how they chose? Just like us.
What if now, we could open to that. Come together, rather than shut down or run down. Embrace, rather than try to erase? What if, as they tap on the mic of life, our answer back to them is, “yes, we CAN hear you now.”
It’s not about backing down. It’s not about giving up deeply held values or sacred beliefs. It’s not about abandoning ideas and ideals or noble quests. Nor is it about walking away from the path of politics, activism or social justice. Make your voice known. Work to bring about the change that is in your heart. If you are called down that road, walk it.
This invitation is not an “either/or,” it is an “and.” It’s about going one layer deeper. Refocusing not only on the public and political symptomatology, but also on the deeper human societal pathology. Creating stillness before we act. Listening, beyond lip-service, before we re-engage. Bringing compassion back into the conversation. Then, actually having a conversation, rather than an exchange of positions. The goal, not to win, but to understand. To open a channel. And, then, maybe someday, to find a path to rise together.
We are in a moment. A nation-sized flood light shines upon our shredded collective psyche, the tattered remains of an epic battle to be seen and to reclaim a sense of agency. To be with, not without. At any given time, on any given issue, each of us feels we are the ones being forced into a closet, we are the ones stripped of voice and power, we are the forgotten few. And, yet, if we’d just peel away the posturing and assumptions long enough to see, they, those “others,” share these very emotions. And they, just like us, hope for something better.
What if the way forward is not to hold division sacred, but to hold each other sacred? What if, for that to truly happen, it’s not enough to rely on representatives or surrogates, presidents or powers that be. What if that, my beautiful family, is on us?
What if the only way for those who see the world differently to open to the possibility of seeing it as we do, is for us to open to seeing it as they do?
What if we started with a simple question.
So, tell me about your life…
Will it be easy? To open to the conversation, let alone bridge the divide? No. It will, in fact, be brutally hard. Both because of the values and positions we’ve come to accept as absolute truths, and the simple fact that for most, the incision is still fresh. I don’t mean to, in any way, diminish the validity of the pain and dismay so many feel. Or imply that the process of healing will be anything but fiercely fraught. It will not be easy. But, maybe the better question, will it be worth it?
And, really, what’s the alternative? To fester indefinitely in sorrow, hatred and futility. To spend the entirety of our energy raging against a machine that is, in truth, a mirror of a deeper pathology, born of an unwillingness to see the humanity of those who see the world differently and invite them to the table. Isn’t that what brought us here in the first place?
We are in a moment. Feel it. Grieve it. Own it. Cry it out. Scream it out. Run it out. Hug it out. Make your voice known. Lead. Then, let that be a beginning, not an end. Use the spotlight and the emotion as fuel. Not to divide and conquer, but to unite and rise. Before the light fades, and takes with it that rarest of invitations for us to rediscover a more unified state of grace.
Note: Be sure to read the comments to this essay below. They are a powerful adjunct to the conversation, and offer a range of different perspectives that add greatly to the conversation.
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