I am reeling lately from the social media frenzy of friends and fake news and divisive politics and all of the powerful words from a Martin Luther King Day workshop I attended at Valparaiso University. Forgive my fumbling through a few of these thoughts as I try to figure out how to find peace and live well in our current world and circumstances.
There were several insightful speakers and topics and my favorite was a man named Derrick Howard made a statement "When those who are not injured feel as offended as those who are, that is Justice." The idea is based on the Ben Franklin quote, "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."
This little bitty sentence brought to my mind all the conversations I have had recently when my white, privileged friends express dismay about the political climate. They often beseech us all to “just get along,” to “be positive,” to accept things as they are. It reminds me of when a neighbor said she didn't see that we had any race relations problems in our city of Valparaiso. I said many other white, privileged people would agree with her and not be able to see the depth and breadth of racism around us. It has been easier to not see it in the past but it is a grave mistake to not see it now.
We are all racist. This is an idea I grappled with when I taught Fair Housing Classes for a property management company I worked for. We all see differences in each other including skin color and basic physical appearance. It is human and perfectly acceptable to see the difference, to have thoughts or personal opinions about the difference. What is troubling is when we believe and act as if those differences make us or them more or less of something.
Once upon a time ten years ago or so, I was traveling for work and ended up at a Denny's. As I waited for my carryout order I looked over the patrons and was surprised by something unusual: They were all ugly. The people at Denny's were all -- to me -- funny-looking or unpleasant or odd... I began to feel smug as only a twenty year old person can and amuse myself in my mind at their expense. Then it came to me that every single one of us is ugly. Me included. We can hide it, we can work through it, but at our core though we may be good folks, we can be ugly too.
I remembered this powerful and painful moment of personal development when Derrick Howard mentioned a quote he likes: "Ugly people know they are ugly when they wake up in the morning." He said most people know what holds them back in life. Most people know their ugly and pretty sides, and often this knowledge is where they speak and live from. He encouraged us by saying "Don't be ugly."
And so to my friends fighting on social media and to myself I say these things:
1) Do. Not. Be. Ugly. If I belittle someone and call them names no-one will want to hear my words. Our mothers were right: When we speak badly about another person it says more about US than them. Let’s be mature adults and control ourselves.
2) Everyone should get a chance to be LISTENED TO. Yes, even Those People. Spend more time listening to other people and less time trying to speak our points. Let’s ask them questions. Can we dig deeper with everyone's best interests at heart? In the safety of being listened to, they may be able to hear our words differently.
3) Do NOT slip into a cocoon with only like-minded people. YES we need to have our tribes, we need to feel safe somewhere in the world, but we cannot dismiss and close off the opposition, lest they react the same way. Conversation in a bubble is worthless. Let’s not block and unfriend folks. Doing that says our beliefs cannot stand against or beside opposing beliefs. (And If they cannot, are we sure we want to hold them?) I changed my permissions to avoid some conflict and I took Facebook off of my cell phone to avoid the fray. This way I can participate in the conversations when I am ready instead of all day long.
I want to remember everyone wants to be liked and well thought of. I want to treat each person with whom I interact with love and grace and kindness regardless of how they interact with me.
A great lady recently said, “When they go low, we go high!” This is a challenging thing to do and takes strength. I want to be strong.
I want to be kind and stay involved. If I choose to be peaceful amidst daily challenges, my life will make a difference each day. I can do this: I can speak Peace.