Category Archives: Privilege

Earning vs. Taking: What Makes You WORTHY of a Vacation?

“When all else fails, take a vacation.” –Betty Williams

In just a few short days, I will be parking my pale body on the warm sand and letting my mind drift away to the sound of lapping waves. I’m going on vacation!!!

Specifically, I am escaping snowy Minnesota for a week in sunny Florida. Each day will find me splitting time between the beach and the pool, catching up with my parents and goofing off with my kids. I cannot get there soon enough! I am absolutely giddy at the thought of it. And as the countdown to takeoff has ticked down, vacation is nearly all I can think about.

Unfortunately, the trumpets of glee and excitement in my head over this much-anticipated getaway have too often been drowned out by the voices of judgment and insecurity. My usual refrain goes something like this: “How can I justify a vacation right now? I don’t feel worthy of one. I haven’t earned it.”

I wrote to you recently about my job search. Well, I still haven’t quite landed the gig with the right combination of fulfillment, schedule, and paycheck. It is that last part–the paycheck–that weighs heavily on me as we pack our bags for the land of millionaires. My current income and the balance in my bank account suggest that instead of a flight to paradise, I ought to settle for a walk around the neighborhood park.

It’s not even that the trip is costing us a lot of money. We have generous hosts and got tickets at a decent price. So I am not expecting any more wallet-related stress than I do on a typical week at home. In fact, as I think about that now, I realize that even though my guilt and torment surrounding my worthiness for this vacation are not exactly financial, they are definitely a product of that paycheck and job search.

I guess that, in my head at least, my worthiness of a break is tied to me having reached certain markers that I have set for myself. It is a standard reward structure, like a sales goal: if you hit a certain mark, you win the prize. It seems fair. The problem in this case is that when the tickets were booked, I was sure I would have hit the goal by now. I would have the job with the check and be feeling relatively satisfied.

Sure, I am never fully satisfied and am always striving for more and better in my life, but there are definitely phases when I am less restless and anxious about my situation. This is NOT one of those phases! I have plainly not hit the benchmarks lately, and my judgments about that are pronounced strongly in my head on a regular basis.

To put it mildly, I am not exactly feeling very deserving of a week at the beach.

Granted, I want to go. I am dying to feel the white sand between my toes and taste the saltwater on my lips as I dive below the surface of the human world. I can’t wait to lounge under the umbrella and watch the pelicans dive out of the sky for fish. And I so look forward to watching my kiddos wander off down the beach with my Mom looking for shells, or wander off the other direction with my Dad looking for ice cream. I want all of that. Desperately, even.

And yet, I cannot seem to fend off this feeling that I don’t deserve that stuff right now. That I don’t even deserve a rest, much less a full week’s vacation. I guess that, because I have been trying and failing to reach my top goal for the year–finding the right job–my self-esteem is at a low point. By definition, that means that I don’t believe I have much value or worth at the moment, a.k.a. not worthy.

As you might guess, this combination of giddy anticipation and unworthiness has made for a confusing and combustible lead-up to my trip. I go back and forth from one moment to the next, my head on a never-ending rollercoaster ride.

I just want to find a happy place, somewhere that I can enjoy my tropical daydreams without the baggage of judgment as to whether I deserve to dream at all. And I need to find that place QUICKLY, because I have no interest in wrestling with this stuff once my feet hit the sand. I need to float freely in those turquoise waters.

So, how do I let go of guilt, make peace, and give myself permission to enjoy what ought to be the highlight of the year? I have some beliefs to challenge.

I think it probably starts with getting past my idea that only people who have either done everything right or are lucky enough to be wealthy deserve vacations. Somehow, I have been clinging to this–unconsciously until now–for years. Because, really, how many people would ever get a break if that were the case? Clearly, it is an unhealthy belief.

What I am realizing now as I write this is that LIFE is hard enough–for everyone–that we are all worthy of a vacation. I look around the world and, obviously, most of us cannot afford a vacation right now, and many people will never take one in their entire lives. Does that mean that they don’t deserve one, that they should refuse if one is offered? Heck no!

I think I will need to re-read that last paragraph a few more times before I leave on my trip. It makes a lot of sense, right? Life is hard. With my standards, doing it all to my satisfaction is going to be a rare occurrence in my lifetime. I hope that chances for treats like vacations come more often than my satisfaction does, and I hope that I am willing to pounce on those golden opportunities. It would be a shame not to.

Maybe the trick for me is just to reframe the issue so I don’t feel like I have to earn my vacations, but instead I just have to take them. Much in Life comes upon us by chance. I think it is commonly taken as Truth–and usually mistakenly so–that we earn all of our good fortune and that hard work and persistence guarantee success and opportunity. Don’t get me wrong: hard work and persistence make good things more likely than laziness and weakness of will, but they guarantee nothing. Opportunity often arises unbidden. Whether you feel like you’ve earned it or not, you have to be ready to take it.

That all makes good sense to me. I just have to pick my chin up from my recent battles with Life so I can see the Truth more clearly. I am in the game, and that all by itself makes me worthy of an opportunity. For me right now, this vacation is my opportunity. I am taking it!

How about you? How worthy do you feel of life’s rewards? Open up your journal and consider your self-esteem and how that plays into your willingness to accept “the finer things in life” as they show up. How much do you buy into the idea–consciously or not–that, “If I haven’t hit all of my benchmarks and I haven’t earned a lot of money, then I don’t deserve a vacation (or whatever other pleasant opportunity you can think of)”? Can you think of examples from your past when you have let that idea keep you from taking advantage of a wonderful adventure or great escape? How conflicted were you at the time? How long did it take until you came to regret it (if ever)? Where are you right now with your relationship between “accomplishments” (goals hit, money in the bank, etc.) and self-esteem? Do you feel worthy of a vacation? If so, what makes you feel you deserve it? Is it a specific achievement or just a generally positive self-worth? If you don’t feel like you deserve a vacation at the moment, what would get you to that spot? What do you think of my newly-considered conclusion that Life is difficult enough that we are all worthy of a vacation (or other treat) just because we keep showing up every day? Are there people in your little corner of the world who never take vacations, whether through lack of resources or because they don’t believe they are worthy of one? How good would it feel to surprise them with an all-expenses-paid trip? How good would it feel if you received one of those right now? Where would you go if you could choose? On a scale of 1 to 10, how worthy do you feel of that trip? What would it take to get that score to a 10? Do you take advantage of the opportunities that Life presents you with? Could you be better with that openness if you felt yourself more deserving of good fortune? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes you worthy of Life’s biggest treats?

You are AWESOME,

William

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P.S.S. Thanks to all of you who have purchased my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. If you have read it, I would so appreciate you leaving a review on your preferred outlet. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for???

How Fragile We Are: A Temporary Life in a Vulnerable Body

“Nature of life is fragile. Uncontrollable events happen all the time in life.” –Kilshore Bansal

Hello friend,

I had quite a health scare last week that left me physically weak and emotionally rattled. It never fails to amaze me by just how little we are hanging on.

My pain came on quite suddenly Monday afternoon. I had lay down on the sofa with a mug of cocoa to write in my journal. By the end of my entry, my stomach felt so overfull that I was disgusted with what a glutton I was. I figured that I would get up and move around, maybe use the bathroom, and things would settle down and be fine. They were not. The pain increased, but I was managing, and by the time I went to bed, I convinced myself that I would be fine in the morning and that my Tuesday would be as ordinary as ever.

How wrong I was.

I did all I could to get myself going in the morning and off to work. I felt horrible but told myself that I wouldn’t think about the doctor unless I still felt bad on Wednesday. After all, I didn’t have the fever and other symptoms of the nasty flu that has been such demolishing people all Winter, so I did not worry about infecting anyone else. It was just my own pain–constant, knee-buckling pain–in one localized area of my body. However, by late afternoon, I had begun to believe that I was not going to make it anywhere on Wednesday. I needed immediate help.

When the doctor at Urgent Care seemed confounded enough to send me home with some Maalox, I began to worry. I knew it was something serious, not just a bad tummy ache. As a last resort, she ordered a blood test, the results of which had her ordering me to go directly to the Emergency Room.

It was a quiet, solemn ten minutes in the car. “So this is how my story ends, eh?” That was the first thought in my head. I thought of all the people who have unwittingly embarked on their final day or final chapter of existence under the most ordinary circumstances. They got up and went to work that day as usual, and by the end of the day, they had been crushed by a car or had a stroke or received a diagnosis that would signal the their demise and final destiny. I thought I might be in that last category. I envisioned the ER doctors, after a series of scans, informing me that a malignant tumor had taken over the organs of my abdomen and that there was nothing more they could do but try to keep me comfortable until my certain death arrived, all of which I then had to explain to my wife when she arrived at the hospital. I wasn’t scared or panicked on that drive, but I definitely had a good cry. Maybe it was that awful vision, maybe it was the pain, and maybe it was that I was all alone. In any case, I wept for the final few minutes of the drive. Then, when I pulled into the parking lot, I got myself together to face my new reality, whatever that would be.

A couple of lonely and painful hours later–with a few more cries mixed in when the nurses would leave my room–after those envisioned scans were completed, I lay there contemplatively and awaited the results. I marveled at how, at any moment, some news would casually enter the room and either shatter my entire existence (as well as the lives of my wife and kids) or grant me a temporary reprieve. I pondered disbelievingly at how nonchalant that Fate can be, how lives get snuffed out and turned upside down in the most ordinary moments.  

Drunk driver. Aneurysm. School shooting. Diagnosis.

All day long. Every day of the year.  

Was the coming moment–the one that was so ordinary to everyone but me–about to be my moment? I wasn’t fretting, but I wasn’t forcing optimism, either. I think I was mostly in awe of the absolute powerlessness I felt. I was supremely aware of the blunt fact that Fate could do whatever she wanted with the fragile vessel that was my body, that it was completely out of my control and always would be. I served at her pleasure. There was the sense that the IVs and other tubes and machines I was hooked up to were there simply to administer helplessness. It was palpable.

I had never felt so insignificant in all my life.

So, what did I feel when the doctor came in with her sober face and her “I’m sorry to have to tell you this…” tone and told me that I had an appendicitis and would need to have surgery immediately? I felt relief. Relief that I got to go back home in a day or two to resume my normal life of pretending that I know how each day will go and that I have some control over the outcome. Relief that I got to go chase my kids around again and act as though we will certainly have all the time in the world together. Relief that my wife and I could resume our happy assumption that we will grow old together. Relief that I got to write another book and more of these letters to you. And ultimately, relief that I could feel like, “OF COURSE I will do all of that.” Of course.

I suppose it is an amazing privilege to live in a place and time that we can so easily delude ourselves that all will be well for the foreseeable future. I live in American suburbia in the 21st century. In spite of the nonsense in Washington and the regular mass shootings around the country, it is my privilege to drink clean water, have access to quality medical care, and feel physically safe where I live and reasonably certain of what comes next.

But let’s be honest: it’s still an illusion of safety and certainty. Those things aren’t real. We are at the whims of Fate. That aneurysm or drunk driver can hit at any moment.

That was the sobering reality that hit me on the way to the Emergency Room and remained on my shoulder as I waited for the doctor to deliver the news. I knew that she could just as easily speak the words “stomach cancer” as “appendicitis” when she walked through the door, and that Fate’s flip-of-the-coin might bring the other answer to the person waiting in the next room. We were both powerless to change her verdict.

Even after I received the “good news” and felt that big exhalation of relief, that peek behind the curtain of Reality left me rattled emotionally. For the next few days, I was a raw nerve.

When my kids came to see me the next day in the hospital, it was all I could do to keep from bursting out crying. They were the thing I stood to lose on that coin flip, after all, and I had shuddered even more at the thought of them losing me at their age. If they weren’t already wearing Fear on their faces at seeing me hooked up to all those tubes, I know I would have let out an involuntary sob. As it was, I fought it back and just told them I loved them and missed them terribly in the day that had passed. I was the same way when my Mom called. I could hardly breathe–much less speak–in my effort to keep the floodgates closed.

The thing that finally burst the dam was a movie. On the morning I was released from the hospital, I went home to nap in my bed. When I woke, I started a movie that I had long wanted to watch on Netflix, “Fruitvale Station.” It is based on a true story of a young man’s last day on Earth, ending in his murder. On a different day, I might have finished watching and been angry at the injustice of the murder and sad about the loss to the young man’s mother, child, and girlfriend, but I think I would have moved on without much drama. Not this day. No, I lay in bed and sobbed and sobbed at the random and senseless cruelty of the world and how we walk daily along that razor’s edge between a happy normalcy and a completely shattered existence. Shortly after I stopped crying, my wife came home, took one look at me, and asked what had happened. I couldn’t even get the words out; I just sobbed and sputtered some more.

That peek behind the curtain had broken me. It was Life and the unfairness and uncertainty of it. And it was the sheer recklessness of Fate. How it could take that young man with the beautiful daughter and his newfound resolution to be better. How it could casually erase the lives of children in the middle of a normal school day. How it could nonchalantly shake the Earth and crumble the homes in one town but not another, then turn around and scatter terminal diagnoses all over the planet. And it was the absolute clarity that, despite the fact that I got off easy this time, it could just as easily have gone the other way.

All of that reality caught up to me in that moment, and I let it all out through my eyes.

In the days that have followed, my body has grown stronger, and with it I have rebuilt my illusion. I no longer spend the day thinking about how completely fragile each of our existences is. I am getting past that jarring sensation I felt upon realizing how temporary and random are our lives and deaths. I am planning for the future again, even as I am reminding myself to be present and enjoy each moment I have here with these beautiful people that I call mine. I am telling myself that waking up early for the gym each morning will let me live a longer, happier, and healthier life. I am trying to be “normal” again.

I have to admit though, that there is a thin veil over my normal now. I got spooked last week on my way to the hospital. Spooked by Reality. You know that traumatized feeling you get when someone just about rams into you with their car as you are driving–that freaked out, breathless, sobering kind of spook? It was like that, but instead of dissipating after a few minutes, it stayed. So I am wondering: will this gun-shy feeling go away with time, or will every moment of joy and freedom and planning and dreaming be tinged with that peek behind the curtain, that look into Fate’s eyes, the same way that Death has a way of leaving that tinge on every moment thereafter? I will have to wait and see, I suppose.

Still, I can’t help but think that it will become harder and harder to shake the truth that our existence–my existence–is a temporary and uncertain one in a body that is vulnerable to the whims of Fate and random chance. I’m not sure that will ever quite sit well with me.

How about you? How do you make peace with the vulnerability of your body and the random and uncertain nature of Life in general? Open up your journal and go deep as you pull back the curtain on this topic that we typically keep ourselves in denial about. How often, if ever, do you allow yourself to fully absorb how vulnerable your body is to any number of potential destructions? Does it take a personal crisis, such as a car crash or medical emergency? Do you feel it when there is an “act of God” that makes the news, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami that kills lots of people? How about things nearby, such as when someone in your community is stricken with cancer or killed by a drunk driver? Does it hit you at all when you hear of tragedies further away from home, such as a famine in Africa or a genocide in Syria? Do you brush those things quickly past your awareness, or do you allow them in? How does each of these types of peril affect you? What makes one type more staggering than the other? Does it have to happen directly to you to affect you deeply, or is your empathy enough to be shaken by these occurrences in others? When you feel it, how quickly are you able to get back to your illusion of safety and security? Is that a healthy and necessary denial? Is it also healthy to have these periodic reminders (read: scares) to help you to see that life is to be cherished and not wasted? Overall, how free are you of the shadow of this near-death existence that you live every day? How has that changed as you have aged? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you navigate life in your fragile and temporary body?  

Spread sunlight,

William

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Dear Mr. President: an open letter

“In America, anyone can become President. That’s the problem.” –George Carlin

Hello friend,

Don’t you ever wish you could get the undivided attention of the leaders of the world and give them a piece of your mind? You know, just sit down over a beverage and try to get them to understand the world from your perspective or try to change their mind on a few things. Or maybe you imagine yourself as the principal and them coming into your office to sit while you stand over them and read them the riot act (my elementary school principal was a frightening dude, so this visual works for me!). Maybe you want to praise them for their wisdom and their class in handling a recent crisis, or perhaps you would rather berate them for the way they have let your country lose its place in the world order. Whatever your agenda, I bet you have imagined one of these conversations (or monologues) with some leader somewhere along the way.

Well, I am not sure if you have noticed, but the guy who lives in the White House these days seems to evoke some pretty strong sentiments from the citizens of the country he is charged to lead. I am one of those citizens.

I have read the Tweets and watched the press conferences. I have studied his appointees, his agreement withdrawals, and his proposals. I followed the seemingly endless presidential campaign very closely, and I have continued to follow the presidency.

It would be an understatement to say that I have an opinion on the matter. I can’t imagine that anyone in America with a head above ground does not have an opinion on the matter! But you know how delicate, emotional, and often combative political discussions can get. It can be hard to be fully honest and feel safe. And sometimes, just for our sanity, we try to bury our heads about what is going on, right? Because with one dramatic turn of events after another, to fully process them all just might be unhealthy.

So I was thinking this week that with the news cycle a little more off politics and onto other disasters, this might be just the time to think a bit more clearly about how we might address this polarizing character at the head of our government. And what better way than our journal, of course! The safest depository for sensitive or inflammatory ideas. It’s perfect! And so, a letter to the President….

Dear Mr. President, 

I am writing to you today because I would like to get some things off my chest. These are just from me. Though my political bent is definitely to the liberal side of the spectrum, I don’t affiliate with any party and don’t wish to speak for anyone but myself today. One voter, one citizen.  

I’m actually a deeply concerned citizen. Frankly, I don’t appreciate your style of leadership or the direction you are steering our country from a policy perspective.  

As far as your personal leadership style and the way you come across as the figurehead of America, I am a deeply embarrassed citizen. I have followed several Presidents in my lifetime and have disagreed with many (sometimes most) of their big decisions or policies. I never deluded myself into thinking any of them were saints. I don’t need my President to be a perfect soul. However, your words and actions have failed just about every moral test I can imagine.  

I often think of this stuff in terms of my children and how they would see it or be affected by it. Up to this point in my life, I can imagine thinking it would be really cool if the President—from either party–were to come to their school to address them or to come by our house for dinner. Despite our political differences, I believed the President would act with class and grace and be a good example to my kids. Now, if given those opportunities, I would keep my children home from school that day and deny the dinner request. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of what you might say or do. That’s a shame.  

I find it disturbing and disheartening how often I hear or read or think of your actions being characterized as “beneath the office of the Presidency.” I don’t need to make the list—it seems that you follow your press clippings closer than I do—but again, it is enough to make me feel bad for the kids. “The Office” seems to be now permanently diminished for your successors. With so few things left in the world to feel some reverence for, it saddens me that you have singlehandedly robbed all the future kids of our nation of something special.  

And again, it is not as though I was expecting a beacon of morality when you entered the office. Whether through your history of housing discrimination, the Central Park Five, birtherism, the Mexican rapists, the anti-Muslim stuff, mocking the disabled, and the Access Hollywood tape, it was clear long before the election that you were—both publicly and privately—anything but a model for social justice and inclusion. Still, I held out a sliver of hope that even if the presidency didn’t chasten you a bit, as others predicted, that it might just tone down the frequency and blatant nature of crassness and bluster.  

I probably would have settled for you just stopping the Tweets. But no, you seem intent upon throwing gasoline on any sparks you may have ignited and making volatile situations exponentially worse, doubling down on your missteps rather than walking them back (never mind apologizing). For someone who bragged so often of his presidential temperament along the campaign trail, your absence of wisdom, grace, and simple personal control is frightening.  

Probably by now you have guessed that I am not much of a fan of your policy proposals, either.  

If you hadn’t already lost the respect and support of people around the world by the time you pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement—if you recall, the polls suggested you were already vastly unpopular globally—that was certainly the moment, for me, that it felt absolutely obvious that the United States was no longer to be considered the leader of the world, and maybe not even ONE OF the leaders. It seems that in trying to “put America first,” you ended up placing America last and all by itself. The feeling I came away with was, again, embarrassment.  

Your recent plan to revoke DACA, your anti-Muslim travel ban, your pardon of civil rights violator Joe Arpaio, your encouragement of police to be more rough with suspects, your ban on transgender people in the military, and your wink-wink “denouncement” of neo-Nazis and White supremacists following the nightmare in Charlottesville—not to mention the many things you said and did prior to becoming President—have all created an atmosphere in which so many more people in our country today feel unsafe and unsupported.  

I am not here to argue about whether or not you are a White supremacist, but what I do want to make perfectly clear is that your words and your actions have helped create an atmosphere in which White supremacists feel increasingly emboldened and comfortable as a part of our everyday, “normal” society. If you truly are not a White supremacist, I hope you are appalled by that. It seems that you are not.  

One of the things I have noticed since you became President—and for a long time I could not quite put my finger on it—is that the country seems to be suffering from a form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There is this extreme sense of apprehension in the air, like we are constantly worried about which calamity will show up in the next news cycle. Who will you have offended? How will you embarrass us next? Who is getting fired? Which of my loved ones am I going to have to comfort? Who will I have to march for? Are you going to be impeached? Are you getting us into a war? 

With your itchy Twitter finger and your raw nerve of an ego, we just don’t know what madness will await us when we wake up the next day. This state of heightened anxiety, multiplied by that that awful feeling of vulnerability for so many of our citizens based on your actions, is perhaps your most damning legacy.  

So yes, it’s true that a small part of this is just that I wish we had elected someone whose political leanings were more like mine. I am disappointed that the environment is under fire, that climate change is being denied, that your return to “law and order” is leading to increasing injustice, that solid contributors to our society are being sent away, that you cannot find a way to get more people access to health care at a lower price, and that you seem intent on widening the gap between the rich and poor. I am fairly sure I would feel much of that disappointment with anyone from your party in office. I am used to that sense of loss; I can deal with that.  

So you see, Mr. President, my takeaway feelings from your time in the White House are not direct results of you and I not sharing a political party. No, instead I get two overwhelming sensations when I think your effect on our country. The first is embarrassment. I feel such shame that during the campaign you showed us exactly who you are, and we still elected you. We have lost our place in the world as result, and for me, I have lost any sense I had that we are a country to brag about and that others might look to for an example, that “shining city on a hill” that one of your predecessors often described.  

The second overwhelming sensation that overtakes me when I think of your presidency is sadness. As I mentioned earlier, so much of how I view these things is as a parent and a teacher of future generations. Growing up, I always thought of the President as someone who, in public at least, spoke and acted with class and represented America in a dignified way. The kids today get a guy who mocks the disabled at campaign rallies, famously talks at work about sexually assaulting women, and frequently calls people “losers” in public. It doesn’t seem fair to the kids.  

It saddens me that you are the guy that this generation of kids has to see as the example of what the President acts like, and it embarrasses me that the world is watching us and that I have to explain to my own kids that their fellow citizens knew who you were and still elected you. That is a difficult conversation. The embarrassment is for me. The sadness is for the kids.  

So, Mr. President, I wish I had more words of praise for you, because I would much prefer to be doing that right now. Despite all of this, however, I am still hoping, as I was the day you were inaugurated, that you will find a way to temper yourself, to control your ego, and to act in a way more befitting of the leader of a great country. I am still hoping that you will open your heart and your mind to the greatness of the people of this country—ALL of the people: not just the White, male, straight, and Christian ones. I am still hoping you will choose words and policies that make all of us feel safe and respected and welcome. And finally, I am still hoping that you will close your Twitter account. I wish you and your family good health and happiness. 

Sincerely,

William

How about you? What would you like to say to the President? Open up your journal and unload your thoughts. Remember: it is a safe space; no one will ever have to read it but you. As is the case every week, I only shared mine as a jumping off point for you. My guess is that your letter will look a lot different than mine. But how? Is your letter more complimentary? What specific things would you like to praise him about? What about the other side: what specific issues do you want to berate him about? Charlottesville? The Wall? The travel ban? Dreamers? Health care? Climate change? Would you like to address his character and the example he is setting for children? How much of what you would say is driven by what you were expecting when we was elected (whether you voted for him or not)? Has he disappointed you relative to your expectations, or has he been better than advertised? What do you want him to do more of? Less of? Would you share some personal stories of how his presidency has affected you and your loved ones? How can your words help him? If you are mostly angry, how can you find words that are both a release for you but also helpful to him? Do you think there is anything you could say to bring about a positive change? I dare you to try! Ask yourself: What would you like to say to the President?

Speak Truth to Power,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Let us help each other to use our voices for good!

The Treason of Silence

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Hello friend,

I ask you today to open your mind to a thought that ought to be very uncomfortable for you.

But first, I want you to conjure up a specific image in your mind—you can choose from the many that have made their way through the various media in the last week—of one or two of the torch-bearing, Confederate-flag-and-swastika-waving bigots who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

Mine is the face of Peter Cvjetanovic, clad in his white polo and styled hair, holding his Tiki Torch and screaming next to the other young, white, male torch-bearers (you know, the one who, when outed this week, said, essentially, “I’m not the racist everyone is making me out to be.” Poor guy.)

But you choose your own. There are many photos and videos to choose from, and the cast of characters is huge. But the images seem to reveal some commonalities. They are violent. They are angry. They are organized. And they are ready to break your country into pieces.

Now here is the thought I want you to entertain: Maybe you are a bigger problem for us than they are.

I know, I know, it sounds farfetched. And trust me, I am as hypersensitive as they come and cannot stand to be accused of anything. So I feel you. But bear with me.

You might be worse for your country right now—and for human rights, social progress, Justice, etc.—than those neo-Nazis and white supremacists who stormed Charlottesville last weekend.  

How could that even be possible?

When you are actually in a moment of history, you rarely understand its significance. In the first few years of The Civil Rights Movement, there was nothing called “The Civil Rights Movement.” It was just people like Rosa Parks acting for justice. Only later did we recognize the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a seminal moment in The Civil Rights Movement.

It seems to me that we are in quite a moment right now. I can’t say for sure how this will all look fifty or a hundred years from now and what the history books will say, but I have a suspicion that this era will be in there and that we will be judged for our roles in it.

What urges me to ask this difficult question of you is none other than Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself. Dr. King is on my short list of greatest heroes. He wrote and spoke so many words that have touched me in my deepest places. But the ones that seem to come back over and over to haunt and inspire me are his passages about silence and the role of “good people” in the culture of injustice that has defined America since its inception.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” 

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’” 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

“To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it.” 

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” 

When silence is betrayal. The common definition of treason is “betrayal of one’s country.” But what about a betrayal of humankind in general? A betrayal of Goodness? Of Justice?

You see, when you are crusading for Justice, your biggest enemy is not the unjust but the indifferent.

Let me unpack that. If I am a leader tasked with combatting racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, anti-Muslim sentiment, you name it, the ones who do the most damage to my cause are not those guys in Charlottesville marching with their flags and beating people up. Those guys are the low-hanging fruit; they are easy to address and easy to rally against. They are deplorable and I wish they were gone, yes, but their kind of damage can be measured and contained. They are a broken bone—badly broken–not a cancer. No, the group that has the potential to quietly, casually allow disease to spread through my people are the silent, “good people” who say nothing when the bone-crusher rises up at our doorstep.

These “good people” can’t ever be singled out for using the “N-word” or openly discriminating against the Muslim family down the street. They may or may not have voted for the candidates who support tolerance and inclusivity, but they didn’t rally against them. They are always outwardly kind and respectful. So, what makes them the great “tragedy,” as Dr. King referred to them?

Their “appalling silence” when it comes to defining moments and matters of importance.

By the end of last weekend, you might have known that the events in Charlottesville were a big deal by the amount of media coverage they were getting, but I surely couldn’t tell by the number of my social media community who were speaking out against these people and their disgusting causes. Nearly everyone seemed to be just viewing it from a distance, as though it were a new television series and not a moral crisis point for our entire nation. By the end of the weekend, I was more disturbed by that “appalling silence” of the “good people” that are my social community than by the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

I suddenly became very active on Facebook. I am typically the guy who looks at Facebook a lot but doesn’t post things on my personal page very often. Well, I started sharing and posting about Charlottesville and implored my community to speak up to their communities about it, stressing that silence communicates support for the white supremacists. I made a point of praising anyone who used their voice in any way—a personal post, a share, etc.—to address the issue. But the more I scoured my Timeline for people’s reflections, the more the silence became deafening to me. (I recognize that several days after the event, it started to become more fashionable to change profile pictures to “I stand against racism” and such, and I don’t wish to diminish those small steps. But my point remains.)

This is not a controversial topic. This is not something that a Democrat friend should think one way on and therefore a Republican friend should think the opposite way. Right? I mean, I know that since the election, almost everyone in my feed has become gun-shy about saying anything “political” in their posts for fear of stirring up another hateful argument and grating on all the raw nerves that the very long campaign process exposed. But, despite what some leaders might say about “many sides,” I think we can all agree that there is one side of this deal that is despicable. Saying so should not risk sparking a debate.

So, why the silence?

Honestly, is it not a big enough topic to raise your blood pressure? Does it just not move the needle for you? WHAT COULD BE BIGGER??? Are Liberty, Equality, and Justice not quite enough to get you to clear your throat and throw out a few words? Just a few.

If not now, when?

Seriously, if you haven’t gotten up in your social media community, family and friend community, spiritual community, or any other community this week and said that you disagree with the Charlottesville marchers and that you stand with the people they are trying to oppress, then I honestly don’t know what to do with you?

It scares me to have to wonder what is in your heart on this matter, especially when speaking out against hate would appear to come with no risk involved.

Your silence portrays, at best, indifference, and that indifference enables this type of nonsense to be normalized.   Are you really in favor of normalizing Hate?

The topic demands that you stand up and take a position. Neutrality is not an option on something so big and so potentially damaging.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I wasn’t even going to write this week because I have been preparing for and on vacation. The thing that drove me to carve out the time was the very title itself: The Treason of Silence. I just know in my bones that this moment in time is our moment of reckoning—individually and collectively as a country—and that History will judge us accordingly. As much as “the appalling silence and indifference of the good people” truly does appall me, I know that my own silence on this matter might be my biggest regret. I choose to speak.

How about you? How have you chosen to react to the dramatic events in Charlottesville in recent days? Open up your journal and justify your level of action or inaction, your reasons for speaking up or being silent. Perhaps it is best to begin with how the events—the marches, the swastikas, the violence, the death—made you feel on the inside. What was your visceral reaction? Stunned? Appalled? Overjoyed? Disturbed? Relieved? Angered? Saddened? Indifferent? How would you describe both the feeling and the depth of it? How much did the images move your needle? If you said you were clearly affected by them—and especially if you felt that what was happening was terribly wrong–what did you do about it? Did you talk to anyone? Share on social media about it? Anything? If you did share, how long did it take you? What made you wait? Is this kind of open bigotry and hate becoming normalized? Is it now so normal that you didn’t—or almost didn’t—think to even say anything? Did you have anything to lose by speaking up—any social backlash, such as loss of friends or potentially angry debates with family members? If you had nothing to lose and still didn’t speak up, what do you think that says about your values and your character? Is the answer to that question a bitter pill to swallow? So, how about Dr. King’s sentiments? When evil is done and you are silent about it, are you an accomplice in that evil? Who is the bigger problem for our society today and the bigger barrier to eliminating the scourge of bigotry and hate: the thousands of people carrying the Confederate flags, shouting racial slurs, and beating people, or the millions of people who enable those thousands with their silence and indifference? Are you one of the thousands, one of the millions, or one of the ones who spoke up? Are you satisfied with your response? Did it match the level of the offense? If not, what will it take to get you to deliver a response worthy of the situation in the future? If this isn’t a disturbing enough event for you, what would be? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you one of the “good people” who have remained appallingly silent?

Rise to the occasion,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. We all need to do some soul-searching on this one.

Where is Your Outrage? Getting Angry in an Apathetic World

“If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention.” –Lisa Borden, The Alphabet of Avoidance

Hello friend,

This week I watched the newly-released police videos of the murder of Philando Castile and its immediate aftermath. I watched as Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, sat handcuffed and distraught in the backseat of a police cruiser with her four-year-old daughter. The little girl pleaded with her to stop screaming because she didn’t want her mother to “get shooted” too. At the end of the heartbreaking video, she cries to her mother, “I wish this town was safer. I don’t want it to be like this anymore.” I swallowed hard and wiped the tear from my eye. Then I got angry. Really angry. I wanted to scream, but felt like I couldn’t produce one loud enough to represent the extremes of my outrage.

After last Friday’s not guilty verdict for the officer who fired seven bullets into Castile as he sat seat-belted in his car next to his girlfriend and her daughter, I was devastated. Just after my wife told me the news, I had to pick up my kids from camp and explain to them why Mommy would be crying when we got home. We had to have another difficult discussion about race and injustice in America, including our own city, where the murder took place. It is depressing to be forced to have these conversations over and over with a six-year-old and an eight-year-old.

I had been thinking since the verdict about this sad fact of racial injustice in American life and how it pains me that my kids need to know this stuff so young. But seeing this new video of that poor little four-year-old child not only witnessing a murder of a loved one by a police officer but also being cognizant of how little it would take for them to kill her black mother, too, well, that just takes it to a whole other level. As I said, it broke me into tears watching it.

But my heartbreak morphed quickly into its natural successor: outrage.  

I was really, really mad. Mad that Castile’s murderer got off. Mad that this woman had to sit in handcuffs when she had just witnessed her boyfriend murdered and she wasn’t charged with or suspected of any crimes. Mad that this innocent little child had to witness both Castile’s murder and her mother’s humiliation. And so damn mad that we live in a world where that kind of scene—from the phony, racially-profiled traffic stop all the way to the Not Guilty verdict—is commonplace for people of color, just a regular part of what it means to be black in America. It is such a damn shame on us.

But what makes me more outraged as I simmer down from all that other stuff is that this whole thing—which was actually quite famous due to Reynolds’ Facebook Live video capturing Castile bleeding out while his murderer’s gun was still pointed at him—doesn’t seem to even cause an eyebrow to be raised for most people outside of the black community. Nothing!

We cry about it at my house and have long talks with my children, and then I write and share about it on Facebook to both educate and grieve communally. As I scroll through my Newsfeed, though, there is barely a mention of it.

Some of my black friends and a couple of my white friends—literally a couple—that live in the city of the killing share their sadness and disgust. Otherwise, crickets. Silence.

That silence, of course, chaps my hide even more. When I shared on Facebook the video of the handcuffed Diamond Reynolds and her weeping daughter in the back of the police car, along with a call to action, I got a grand total of five acknowledgements in the next 24 hours. Not comments—none of those—but Likes or Sad Face or Angry Face. Five! I bet I could get on social media right now and type “I love chocolate ice cream!” and get twice that number of responses in an hour. Apathy.

I am outraged by the lack of outrage!!!

No wonder most black people in America feel like they can’t trust white people: we do nothing but let them down over and over again. And not just by killing them and getting away with it, but mostly by our absolute apathy about such injustice. It’s not the killers that are so hurtful; it’s the vast silent mass of passive condoners of the killing who act as a rubber stamp of its approval. Our collective silence does more damage than that officer’s bullets.

I just don’t get why everyone is not more upset by this.

Why do you have to be black or have black loved ones to feel outraged by injustice toward black people? Or disabled people. Or poor people. Or LGBTQ people. Or whatever! What makes us so unfeeling, so uncaring about stuff that doesn’t happen in our own house?

And I am not saying that we all have to share exactly the same sensibilities and all have to be upset by the same things. I am outraged by what is happening in Washington, DC almost every single day, too, but I know people who are perfectly content with it. Fine.

But there is so much obvious injustice in our world and so many things that would seem to bind us together in our collective outrage. Alas, I just don’t sense it out there. Not from the crowd I am listening to. My family. My friends. My social media contacts. My world. It breaks my heart how silent and unmoved you are by things that matter so much to me (and that I want to believe would matter to you).

It is this deep sadness, this disappointment, that always remains when the fire of outrage quiets. I am more often sad than mad about stuff. I think that is part of my disposition. But I am feeling—deeply, passionately, painfully—and if nothing else, that reminds me that I care. I just don’t know about anybody else.

I am looking for it, desperately wanting to feel that flame from others the way a captain lost in the storm wants to see the lighthouse. I long for some sign, some indication that it’s not just me, that I am not alone in my pain and indignation at injustice. I want to know that the collective response to everything isn’t just a shrug, a “Whatever”. I want to know that there exists some degree of indecency, immorality, illegality, or injustice that will cause a critical mass of us to not simply raise our eyebrows but also our hearts and voices.

I feel myself both inside the world and outside, knocking on the door and wondering if we are still in here, if we will answer it or if we will turn down the lights and hide in the basement until the knocking goes away. I need to feel some reassurance that we are going to answer, because right now, I am getting nothing. That silence makes me want to scream.

How about you? Is there any rage coming out of you from the way our world is working? Open up your journal and consider what, if anything, raises you to the level where something has to be said or done about it. Is there anything? When was the last time you felt truly outraged about something? What was it? How did you vent your frustration and anger? A group protest? A Facebook rant? A vent session with a loved one who empathizes with you? Or did you just stuff it all down inside you to keep stewing? What type of thing usually draws your ire? Social justice issues? The ineptitude and acrimonious dealings of our elected officials in Washington? Environmental issues? Concerns of unfairness in your workplace? Income inequality and the dominance of the wealthy few over the many? Mistreatment in individual relationships? Why does expressing our outrage over blatant societal injustice have to be polarizing and scare us into not expressing ourselves? Is it actually controversial to say that Philando Castile was dealt an injustice or that his family was dealt another one with the verdict? I think it takes a fairly high degree of denial to survive and remain sane in this society, because there are so many causes for outrage around us. Do you find that to be the case, and how do you filter the many triggers? Do you ever worry that you have taken that filtering and denial too far, to the point that nothing outrages you anymore? I feel like most people have gotten that way about the mess in Washington. Do you think some outrage is healthy, though, as a sort of proof that you are alive and engaged with the world? I like the H.L. Mencken quote, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” How often should you allow this outrage to surface in order to remain happy and balanced? How can you apply your outrage to activism for positive change? On a scale of one to ten, with one being always silent, passive, and even-keeled, and ten being outraged, vocal, and actively engaged in protest, where do you generally fall on the spectrum of outrage regarding societal injustice? Does that feel like a healthy spot for you, or is it time to make some changes? What aspect of your world needs your outrage and your voice? Are you ready to give it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is your outrage?

Speak and act your Truth,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. I would also love to hear from you, either in the comments or on Facebook, especially about which of the many injustices in the world rile you most. Thank you for energy.

What’s the Difference Between You and Everybody Else?

“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” –Simone de Beauvoir, Prime of Life

Hello friend,

I remember when I was in my twenties. I was out in the world doing my thing. I was meeting tons of different people, figuring out how we all fit together. In all of those countless interactions, the thing that always seemed to bother me the most was when someone claimed to understand me, to know what I am all about. I was so sure that they weren’t even close to comprehending my essence and what made me tick. I just knew that I was completely different from everyone else and that no one could imagine my depths.

There are passages in my very first journal that allude to this feeling of being different and how that feeling isolated me.

“I am destined to be a loner, for no one can understand the things that drive me. I feel I am becoming more and more ‘abnormal’ as the days go by.” –July 7, 1994

“And even if I let some pretty close, I’ll always be alone, because no one can see what’s there. Some will claim to, but they won’t know the half of it.” –February 22, 1995

Ironically, at the same time that I was being regularly offended by people claiming to get me, I was arrogantly assuming that I could read everyone else like a book, as this passage reveals:

“I think the main reason for my silence and solitude goes back to the original issue: I feel I have these gifts or abilities in my mind that make me feel unlike the rest of society or members of my species. I truly believe, when I am honest with myself, that I am “different” from the rest, somehow cut from a different cloth than the rest of mankind. Although I am a believer in the thought that we are all truly different, I believe there are things inside of me that are beyond what lies inside the minds and souls of others. I feel I can truly understand every man and his thoughts and feelings, and then go beyond that to a very large place that no one else can know.” –July 25, 1997

Oh, the self-centered thoughts of a young adult! Those entries fascinate me—and embarrass me a little–all these years later. You may not be surprised to learn that my perspective has changed somewhat in the two decades that have passed since then.

These days, I am simply less sure. I don’t assume I know as much as I used to assume. I think I read people well, empathize with their experiences, and take them into my heart so I can feel their joy and pain. But I am quite sure there are hidden depths and dark corners inside them that I haven’t the tools to navigate. That certainty about my uncertainty has humbled me over the years.

I am not sure I have changed as much on the other side of the coin, though. I still tend to think that people don’t understand me very well. Maybe it is because exercises like last week’s 50 Words Challenge reveal that I have a number of complexities to my personality, a lot of conflicting traits that take time to expose.

Understanding the labyrinthine nature of my heart and mind has helped me in my humility, as I figure that most other people are more complex than I ever imagined. At least they might be, and that grain of doubt should keep me as free from certainty and judgment as possible. That uncertainty should keep me always in the moment, receiving them anew as our interactions evolve. It is a good lesson for me.

But how about it: AM I different??? Am I something extraordinary? Is there something totally unique about me? Obviously, the broad range of things that make up our personality and history makes each of us unique. But you know what I mean: Is there something that makes me so unlike most people?

I think that claiming characteristics outright seems a bit presumptuous—arrogant, even—so maybe it is wiser just to list a few potential candidates, ways that I usually feel isolated or unique (again, fully aware that each trait has an infinite number of variations and ways it intersects with our other traits).

One that comes to my mind is my hypersensitivity to oppression and unfairness. I have always been extremely averse to examples of historical, systematic oppression and mistreatment, such as that which our country and its citizens acted out on the American Indians and the African people ripped from their homelands and brought here as slaves (and, of course, everything that followed both of those things). I get the dual reaction of my blood boiling in outrage and my heart being torn to shreds when I think about such injustice. Even with modern examples, when I see a politician or pundit spew hatred or see a friend or family member support that hate-spewer, I become deeply offended by that. My sensitive heart gets broken often by such things.

I have always been that way about perceived unfairness. I think back on all the times I played with cheaters on the tennis court. I would get so appalled by the unfairness that I could hardly function. It is also why I get so worked up about the issue of privilege, such as when I see a highly privileged friend—born into wealth and whiteness and more—look down upon people who were born with fewer advantages and cannot fathom why the privileged should share either money or opportunities with the unprivileged. That ignorance enrages me. The people around me seem to be much less affected by such things. Or maybe they just hide it better.

Besides my sensitivity, the other characteristic that might separate me is my intense attachment to the concept of identifying and following one’s Bliss, dream-chasingk. I was bitten by this obsession before I ever wrote my first journal entry, when I decided to leave school and become an actor. I have sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten to keep chasing my biggest dreams, but it is so obvious to me how that concept is such an enormous and identifying part of Who I Really Am. It is why you are reading these words in front of you: they are part of my dream.

I seem to be obsessed both with chasing my own dreams and helping others do the same. I see it as so important, even essential, to true happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime. I want it as much for you as I do for me.

The other day I was tooling around on Facebook and happened upon a meme that a friend had shared. It said, “It’s messing people up, this social pressure to ‘find your passion’ and ‘know what it is you want to do’. It’s perfectly fine to just live your moments fully, and marvel as many small and large passions, many small and large purposes enter and leave your life. For many people there is no realization, no bliss to follow, no discovery of your life’s purpose. This isn’t sad, it’s just the way things are. Stop trying to find the forest and just enjoy the trees.”

My first reaction was, “No! That meme was written and shared by people who just haven’t found their passion yet. They will change their tune when they find it.”

But the argument has stuck with me, even haunted me a bit. It made me think about the people in my life and how I am the only one who seems so obsessed by this concept of following my Bliss and living my purpose. I am the only one who thinks it is a great idea to set practical realities aside and just chase my dreams single-mindedly. I am the only one who keeps cheering others to do the same. I guess I think it should be common, should be normal to do that. It just isn’t.

There are probably a handful of other ways I feel myself sticking out from—or retreating from—the crowd. And like I said, I know we are all complex. We are the products of ever-changing intersections of different shades of countless distinct and indistinct qualities that blend with circumstances. But we are all humans. We share the same Earth and the same company. How different can we be?

Still, even though there are 7 billion of us inhabiting this third rock from the sun, I can’t help feeling that I am one of a kind.

How about you? What makes you different from all the rest? Open up your journal and think about the times you have felt unique, special, or misunderstood. Which of your characteristics seem to bring about these moments of feeling extraordinary? Are they qualities that you deem positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do they seem to reveal themselves more now than in previous eras of your life, or were they more prominent before? What makes your version of that quality so unique? Have you had different characteristics that took turns setting you apart along your journey, or has it been just one or two core traits that have sustained? Do you appreciate your unique traits, or do you wish for others? Would you rather blend in more? Generally speaking, do you feel pretty well understood by the people in your life? Do you wish to be more understood? How much work would that take on your end? More than you want to do? Is it nice to have a little something just for yourself? How clearly and deeply do you think you understand the people in your life? Better than they understand you? What makes you think so? Would you guess that most people feel ordinary or extraordinary? If it is the latter, how many are willing to claim it out loud and celebrate their uniqueness? Should we do better at encouraging that? Do you celebrate your unique traits? Leave me a reply and let me know: What’s the difference between you and everybody else?  

Shine on,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you look differently at yourself, please pass it on. Tell your loved ones that you appreciate their unique magic. Blessed be.

From Gripes to Grapes: Finding Your Way to THANKFUL

IMG_1667“Be thankful for every mountain, because it is the mountain top that will give you the best view of the world.” –Gugu Mona

Hello friend,

Last Sunday at my spiritual gathering, the minister explained that the collection for the day would go entirely to the refugee family that our congregation is sponsoring and who will be arriving in a couple of weeks. We were also collecting household goods—beds, sheets, lamps, cleaning supplies, etc.—to get them started on their new life in America. Well, one person in my row was paying attention to the minister.   So, when the basket was passed around, I pulled out my wallet and grabbed more than I usually do. My wife looked over, her eyes got big, and she whispered, “Whoa! Big spender!” I whispered back my defense: “It’s for the refugees.” An “Ahh” and a look of recognition appeared, followed by a nod of approval and a thumbs-up.   In that moment, I suddenly felt so grateful for something that usually has me either worrying or complaining: my bank account.

You see, as I alluded to in my letter to you a few weeks ago (see “How Much Is ENOUGH?”), I tend to be gripped by dread and insecurity each time I open my wallet. I hate spending money, and wish I had more of it so I wouldn’t be so obsessed by it (at least that’s how I explain away my worries and stinginess). So why was I suddenly feeling grateful for the money in my wallet and so willing to part with it?

Because I realized that I have a lot more of it than the entire refugee family has, and I actually have a bank account to fill my wallet up again when it goes empty. And in that moment, I realized that that was called good fortune.

In this time called Thanksgiving, I think I am usually like most people: I take a moment to give thanks for my family and friends, my health, clean water, a roof over my head, and warm food in my belly. Those thoughts humble me, and they connect me back to my Creator and what is really important in this world. I love Thanksgiving for just that reason: the humble reminder.

But as I thought about my sudden burst of gratitude concerning my old nemesis, money, something struck me about my usual Thanksgiving moment of gratitude: I am letting myself off easy.

Think about it. How about much work does it take to be grateful—on a day that we get to take off of work for the specific purpose of giving thanks for our blessings—for the things that are so obviously good in your life?

That’s why the money incident got my attention. Money is just not something I am used to being overwhelmed with gratitude for, or believing I have in such abundance that I should always be feeling grateful for. I really should, though, because I realize now that I do, indeed, have enough.

But I don’t always feel grateful. Instead, I worry. I gripe. I clamor for more. I get a little bitter. Those aren’t good feelings. I don’t want more of them.

I truly enjoyed the experience of feeling grateful for the money I have and that I could give some away. Of course, I am a big fan of an unexpected joy and a boost of gratitude. So, I started thinking of the other things I am most hung-up about in my little corner of the world. You know, the things I tend to complain about, fear, or be depressed by. These last couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can change those downers into things I can be grateful for. I’ve come up with a few ideas.

I am not a Winter person. I never have been. I don’t like the cold. I don’t like shoveling snow. I don’t like the consuming darkness. And I despise the inconvenience of putting on so many clothes before leaving the house. It’s just not me. I’m a Summer guy. So, as these cold, dark days have been descending upon me following a lovely Autumn, my tendency is to get the grumbles. Misery loves company, and there are people everywhere I go who are willing to complain about Winter if I give them a little nudge. But today, I am flipping the script. Today I am focusing on the fact that the cold, dark days of Winter are usually the time when I get my most and best writing done. Of course, I love that. So, come on, Winter! I am already grateful for you!

One nice thing about this process is that I am realizing that I don’t have a lot that I consistently complain about, no anchor in my life that always brings me down. I am grateful for that all by itself.

I have to admit, though, that I have been carrying around a weight of sadness since the election, and even in the months leading up to it, as I watched my country be revealed as a place I had been blindly hoping it was not. I confess to a silent resentment toward my many family members who voted for this person whose success translates into other members of my family and my friends living in greater fear for their physical safety and the potential loss of their civil rights. I have had a terrible time reconciling that. I don’t want to feel that anger toward these people that I love. So, today I am trying (with all my might) to let that resentment go. I am deciding to focus on the fact that they are otherwise loving, decent people who have always treated us, on a one-to-one basis, very kindly. I am grateful for that, and I will keep working hard to focus on that kindness.

On a less personal and more broad scale, I have been fairly devastated by what has felt like the loss of the country I thought I had been living in. Though I had been dispirited by the entire year-and-a-half Presidential campaign and its recurring themes of racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance, I was somehow still hopeful that my fellow countrymen would, when they and their consciences stepped into the voting booths together, make a bold and decisive stand against that brand of ignorance.

Of course, my optimism was shown to be shockingly misguided. My psyche has been ravaged as I have watched the ensuing expressions of hate in our schools and streets, as well as the celebrations by white nationalist and white supremacist groups about the election results and the Cabinet appointments that have followed. I have listened to my loved ones who aren’t straight, white, Christian, American-born males express their fears and share the bad experiences they have had due to their identities. I’ve been feeling so stupid because I believed something about my country that turned out to be untrue, and then I have felt sick about the truth. I have to be honest: as a guy who tries to practice and preach Gratitude and always searches for the silver lining, I have had a hard time finding it on this topic these last couple of weeks.

But then I was standing in my kitchen on Thursday evening, looking out over the Thanksgiving meal being enjoyed at my dining table and family room sofas by a small gathering of friends and family members. There was lots of laughter, but there were also interesting discussions about a wide range of topics, including faith and social issues. After listening to some specifics in the few small groups, I pulled my view back a bit further and saw something different, something that changed me.

Here in this one room in my home was a microcosm of the America I had believed in just a few weeks ago. There were white people, Christian people, straight people, able-bodied people, American-born people, and male people, of course. But there were also black people, multiracial people, Muslim people, nonreligious people, gay people, disabled people, immigrant people, and female people. They were just enjoying each other and strengthening the bonds of community and humanity by learning more about one another. It was a little, one-room Utopia.

So, despite all of the legitimate fear and worry that these people feel with the recent election results, and despite how down I have been about living in a country that voted for this fear by voting in the intolerance and bigotry that causes it, my table reminds me that I can still do something about it. That we can still do something about it. It may become more difficult in the next few years, and we may be doing a lot more comforting in our gatherings than we would like. But if we are intentional, and if we keep Love at the forefront, we will not be broken by this setback. The arc of the Universe inevitably bends forward, toward progress. It is not always linear, but the long course of history shows it to be steady. I am thankful that the people who gather at my table just as they are—as equals—will be the keepers of the flame, the ones insisting on progress despite formidable obstacles in our path. I am so, so thankful for that.

And I needed the reminder.

How about you? What are the things in your life that you usually complain about or that drag you down that you are willing to try to turn into things you can be grateful for? Open up your journal and peruse your pattern of thoughts. What do you complain about? Is it big stuff or small stuff? Is it worthy of your effort it takes to complain? What is the stuff that annoys you but that you hold your tongue about? What kinds of things really depress you or otherwise drag you down? Do your issues tend to be constant or recurring things—like money or Winter—or unique issues that come up once, like an election? Pick an issue. What can you do today to change your mind about that issue to the point that you are grateful for its existence? Try that question with progressively bigger hang-ups, going as deep as you can with each to come up with something positive about them that you can be thankful for. How hard is this for you? I think it is easier sometimes to imagine how you will see these “problems” twenty years from now, because from that point-of-view you might be able to see how these issues were actually blessings helping you get to where you need to go. But maybe not. Do you have anything that you absolutely cannot spin in a grateful direction? Is that due to a lack of imagination or effort on your part, or is it just so dark and bad that there is no lens from which to look at it and find something to be grateful for? Does this quest for gratitude make you feel better and help you to see light where you didn’t before? Is this a natural habit for you or something you need much more work to develop? Leave me a reply and let me know: Can you find your way to THANKFUL? 

You are a gift,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to move toward an attitude of gratitude, or if something else resonated with you, please share it. Gratitude is worth spreading!

Health Care, Values, & Obligations: What Are Taxes Meant For?

dsc_0588“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Hello friend,

Have you ever been in the middle of one of your most mundane daily activities—exercising, depositing money at the bank, adding two numbers, driving to the grocery store, tying your shoes, stuff like that—doing your thing the way you have always done it, when someone comes along and points out a totally different way to do it? Or maybe they even ask you why you are doing it in the first place? Suddenly you are forced to defend something you have never even thought about before. You have always just done it. It’s how you learned, and you never considered another way. Never even realized there was an option. But then there it is, right in front of you. It seems so obvious that you cannot believe that you didn’t notice it all this time. And here you are, your mind freshly blown, with a workout that suddenly has you losing weight, doing “new math,” banking online, having your groceries delivered, or using the “Circle Technique” on your laces. It seems crazy! Has that ever happened to you?

I think that is happening to me with health care. I suppose it has been happening for many years, but it feels sudden. My mind is spinning with a new possibility that was there all along.

Let me just say up front what I want and why. I want “free” health care for all people, and I want it because ensuring people’s health and well-being is at the core of the kind of common human decency that I believe we owe to the people we share space with.  

I could go on and on for pages about the Why part, but let’s get right to the meat of things. I look at health care like any other thing that our parents and grandparents believed was the job of the government–using our tax dollars–to provide for our care and convenience. Without any of us even thinking about it, of course our tax dollars pay for a police force, the fire department, streets and highways, a sewer system, drinking water, a strong military, elementary and high school education, and environmental protection.

Seriously, have you questioned lately why we all pay taxes on those things? Have you ever questioned it? I haven’t. And when I do question them now, my answer is, “Of course I am willing to pay taxes to fund those services. They exist to provide my most basic needs and things that I value: protection from hostile forces, safe travel, order in my neighborhood, health, safe food and drink, education.” I can’t imagine ever opposing chipping in for those basics for all people. They are what I would deem essential, and no more for me than anyone else. I won’t say it is technically everyone’s “right” to have these basics, but it reflects our basic human decency that we see them as essential for all. Therefore, it is our obligation to provide them.

If you are with me so far, I think now is a good time to sneak in my basic question: How is health care NOT on that list of essentials? Honestly, I am trying to see how it differs and am struggling for answers. The only thing I can come up with is that, “It’s just how it’s always been in America.” (And, I must add, only in America.)

I suppose we all have the same blind spot I had until recently! I don’t think I am the only one who, if pressed for an answer, sees caring for the health of all as at least as important as providing fire protection for all or education for all. I don’t want to get into splitting hairs here since I have already deemed them all essential, but if forced, I don’t think it would be farfetched to suggest that, of those three just mentioned—health, fire protection, and education—health care just might be most important. In any case, I have yet to hear an argument that kicks it off the list.

But perhaps you want to quibble. Maybe you think the health and well-being of your neighbors should not be your concern, and anyway, you aren’t interested in paying more in taxes to help them out. They aren’t that valuable. So let’s look at some of the other stuff you regularly pay taxes for. As we do, try to build a sort of ranking system for how important—indeed, how essential–you believe these are relative to your own health and that of others you know. Here are just a few:

  • City parks
  • Space exploration
  • Street sweeping
  • Recreational programming
  • Subsidies for agriculture and big oil companies
  • The Arts
  • Lifetime salaries for Senators and Congressmen
  • National Parks
  • Science research
  • Zoos
  • Corporate Bailouts (e.g. the auto industry or Wall Street)
  • Libraries
  • Snow removal

We could go on and on, of course, as our taxes go to so many different and important things. How is your ranking system going so far? I won’t bore you with how I rank them. I will only say that I don’t value any of them—value them for me or for others (and believe me, I really love libraries!)—more than I do health care.

I really want to make clear here that, before all of the defenses go up and we have to start battling each other about how we could pay for it, I am just trying to establish an agreement on what we VALUE. It is a separate issue. My point is that if we all agreed with me (this happens in my dreams, and it’s fabulous!) in thinking health care was at least as important (even essential) as things like education, clean water, and the police, then, logically speaking, we would be forced to agree that we ought to be willing to ensure equal access to health care for everyone by taking care of it with our tax dollars. By extension—and this is the painful realization part—if we have agreed on what we value and yet still fail to act to make it right, we are failing a moral obligation.   The blood of the uncared for is—literally and figuratively—on our hands. I am not okay with that.

I know, I know, you probably wanted to skim through that last paragraph really fast and get to the part where you defend your side by saying it is too expensive and our system is broken and it’s not your fault and such. I feel you. I really do. That’s why I think it is important to first separate the argument so that we are not conflating what we value (morally speaking) and what we are eager to pay for (financially speaking).

And believe me, I make no claim that I am any kind of an expert on how much everything costs and how much more or less we would pay if we blew up our system entirely and went to a single-payer system (a.k.a. socialized medicine, universal health care, or government-run health care). As a total amateur on these topics, my sense is that we already pay a ton for insurance premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, and it also seems like pharmaceutical companies charge through the roof and own so many of our representatives in Washington, DC. My guess is that if the insurance industry was dismantled and the pharmaceutical prices were government-controlled, so much of that money that we now spend could go to getting everyone equal access to quality care. I am sure there is a down side of it, too, because at this point, who really trusts the government to run anything, right?

But we are Americans. We take pride in the idea that we are exceptional. It is supposed to be our thing to figure out the best way to do stuff, and then to keep leading the way with our exceptionalism. If we look at the examples of all the hundreds of other countries in the world who provide health care to their people, and if we see problems in their systems, I feel confident that we could figure out the solutions and move forward with a system that affirms in action what we claim to value (Because Love does, right? It doesn’t just say.). I feel like the “changing our system will be too hard” excuse is weak and lazy, especially if the result is immoral. I think we are better than that. I hope we are. I feel like it is time to put our money where our values are.

How about you? Is health care something you value enough to put your tax money down to guarantee it for everyone? Open up your journal and try to keep an open mind as you parse through this sticky issue. I think this is an especially tough one to tackle with an open heart and mind because, for many of us, it is just something we haven’t ever considered. Our system has been this way our whole lives, and a suggestion to change something long-held usually meets with defense as a first reaction (because of course we are right). So, take a breath, and start with logic. First, is your health valuable to you? How valuable? As important as your safety? Your education? Your water? Your public parks? The arts? Which of the things that you pay taxes for do you think are moral obligations of a society to provide for its people? Which are things that are great and you value, but they aren’t obligations or essential? Which things that you are taxed on do you feel are a rip-off? For the sake of argument, let’s say we had always been taxed for universal health coverage: where would it fit with your last three answers: Moral Obligation, Important-But-Not-Essential, or a Waste/Rip-off? Based on your answer, should single-payer/universal health coverage be a part of the American system going forward? Okay, if you were able to answer most of those logically, relax! Now, feel those natural defenses that probably came up when this issue arose. What makes you most squeamish about agreeing to include universal health care to your list of givens? Is it the money itself (that you think it is going to be much more expensive for you)? Is it that you don’t want to put anything else into the government’s hands? Is it that you don’t think some people deserve it or that too many people who aren’t taxed much because they are poor will take advantage of your hard-earned dollars by using the health care system as much as you do? Do you agree with my assertion that if we agree that health is of such importance to us that we deem medical care to be essential—like we agree on education and safety and the like—then we are morally obligated to provide it? If not, where is the flaw in my thinking? If my thinking is sound, then we are either failing morally on this topic or you disagree that health is of such importance. Which is it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which things are worthy of your tax dollars, and how does health care fit into your priorities?  

See yourself in your neighbor,

William

P.S. If this made you really look at health care and taxes for the first time, or if it made you think of them in a new light that helped you clarify your position, I hope that you will share it with others. We owe it to ourselves to examine our values. May you be Peace.

How Much Is ENOUGH? Money & Our Fear of Losing It

DSC_0043“He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.” –Epicurus

Hello friend,

I recently had the most eye-opening conversation with a loved one. Have you ever known someone for a long time, are sure you understand them thoroughly, and then one day they tell you something that makes you go, “Really??? You really think that?” Maybe you always kind of knew something like that was in them and just steered away from it in conversation, or maybe it totally just came out of left field. In either case, the new information forces you to look at them through an entirely new lens. The color and texture of their portrait in your mind has changed. It is amazing what a simple revelation can do!

So, here’s how it happened. We were talking about taxes and what types of things they should cover. A recurring theme from her side was that she shouldn’t have to pay for anyone else’s problems; it is her hard-earned money and no one else is entitled to it (“entitlements” was a word frequently repeated). I raised the issue of health care and the different ways it is paid for around the world. I proposed the possibility of blowing up our current system, removing the insurance part of the deal, letting the government take over (scary thought, I know), and guaranteeing “free” health care for everyone in the country. This, of course, would mean using our taxes—most likely a large increase in them—to pay for it. [WRITER’S NOTE: This topic of taxes and health care is rich journaling territory, as it speaks directly to our values. And now that it is in my head, don’t be surprised if the whole letter next week is about it. See how easy it is to come up with a topic—ha!]

The less interesting part of her reply to my proposal was the typical response of a conservative person to a liberal idea, essentially, “It’s an admirable idea. You figure out a way to make it work and, more importantly, a way to pay for it without taking any more of my money, and I am in.” As I pressed her more on why, if the spiritual leaders that most of the world’s people claim to worship urged us to do so, we are not ALL morally obligated to find a way to get everyone taken care of, I could feel her defenses rising higher and higher. The tension was palpable.

Finally, she said in a panic, “If China calls back the debts we owe, we would ALL be in huge trouble and NONE OF US would have the health coverage that you are talking about!” This was a totally new angle to me, and I have to admit to being a bit stunned by it. “None of us?” I asked. “NONE!” She said it as a fact. There was genuine alarm in her tone. I explained how the wealthy people have, since our country’s inception, always had enough. They have never been without plenty of food and the best health care. “No matter what happens,” I said,“the wealthy will be alright.” I could actually hear comfort and reassurance in my tone. Her fearful, doubt-filled voice responded meekly, “Do you think so?”

Now might be a good place to give you a little background on the socioeconomic history of my companion. She is a White woman who was raised in a comfortable, middle class home in a comfortable, middle class town. Her parents were never out of work, and they paid for her college education. She married an upwardly mobile White man, and they slowly and steadily increased their wealth—paying for their own children’s educations as well–to the point that now, in retirement, they own multiple homes across the country and have clearly moved beyond the middle class. To any neutral onlooker, it is clear that she will never want for anything financially for the rest of her life. And, much to her credit, she continues to share generously with her family.

So, why the pronounced fear of losing her money to the whims of Chinese financiers and her fierce protection of her tax dollars from the folks she believes are stealing from her by using “entitlements”? Hmmm…..

Talking with her left my mind spinning with theories and questions about this strange relationship between a woman and her money. While it may seem strange to me, I also realize it is probably not at all unique. This mentality of scarcity, of lack—as though, “If I share my money with others, I will never see it again and it won’t be replaced by other money,”—could be a familial thing. It could certainly be a generational thing. After all, this woman’s parents grew up during the Great Depression, and the lessons learned of necessity by that generation would undoubtedly have been passed down to her.

There is likely also something political about it. After all, isn’t that wariness and protection of one’s resources rooted in the very word “conservative”? I also think there is this “You pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality that exists especially in people who already have money, and you can argue over whether that mentality is how they were able to get the money in the first place, or if the mentality is simply a way to justify a stinginess when it comes to sharing their money with others, whether through taxes or charitable donations.

I still can’t figure out the thing about limits, though. That is, Is there a dollar value high enough in her bank account such that she would finally feel like she would be great even if the country had a recession, or high enough that she wouldn’t mind if her tax dollars went to help others who haven’t been as lucky as she has? Or is it simply hard-wired that no matter how much she has, she will always have that scarcity mentality? And, paradoxically, could her swelling bank account make her even more protective of her dollars? After all, you always hear of those studies that say it is poor people who are most likely to share what they have with others, not the wealthy. Is it because poor people know how hard it is to have so little that makes them more likely to give to someone else who needs a hand? This is complicated!

Even as I try to come up with a clear explanation of my own relationship with money and how much is enough for me, I find inconsistencies that muddle the theory. One of my grandfathers was known as a real penny-pincher, and I can definitely tell that I inherited that, either genetically or socially passed. I do not like to spend money, especially on myself (even though I secretly delight in gifts of new stuff). While I have definitely given to causes, I also feel that dread of “Can I afford to give? Will there be enough left?” scarcity mentality when the doorbell rings or the donation basket comes around. I give, but not tons, and I usually do so with both a little twinge of worry and a heavy dose of guilt, knowing I could give more. In so many ways, I feel like a cheapskate. And yet, I am the first in line to vote for a levee or referendum that increases my taxes to put money into schools. And when my friend challenges me to come up with the answers to make quality health care accessible to everyone, I tell her that I don’t mind one bit if my taxes go way up to do it. I suppose I am like, “Take it all off the top—from my wages for taxes—and then let me figure out how to make it work with the rest.” Of course, I would like to have more than I do now—much more, even—but I am surviving in the middle right now. There is not much money for things like vacations or other extravagances, but there is plenty of food in the fridge.

I guess what I have always wanted is to have just enough so that I don’t have to think about it. You know, just up to the point where my penny-pinching tendencies wouldn’t have to kick in. I would like to be able to donate more than I do now and still have the food in the fridge. And while vacations and extravagances would be nice, I would be okay if I was always had as much as I do now.

So, maybe enough for me would actually be if I made more than I do now so that my taxes and donations could go up and I would be left with just as much for the bills as I have now.   That is being greedy, I know, because of course I could survive on less (billions of people around the world prove that). But, within the conditions of my spoiled American life and what I have become accustomed to, I will claim that as my baseline. I know my ambitious mind would drive for more if more were readily available, but I am okay with what I have. It allows for my dueling natural tendencies to co-exist: the penny-pincher and the guy who is eager to give in order to help others rise. That is enough for me.

How about you? How much money do you need to feel psychologically comfortable? The outward signs of comfort may be what you are imagining, but remember that we are really talking about a level of comfort in your mind with what you have, living without fear and without all your defenses up around the issue of your money. Where is that level for you? How would you categorize your current financial situation? Do you have as much as you need? I hope the answer to that is yes. Now, do you have as much as you want? Of course, we all probably want to be billionaires, but within reason, how much more do you want in order to feel the kind of comfort you usually imagine? Is your general mentality one of lack or abundance? How generous are you with your money? Do you feel that twinge of worry, like me, every time you open up your pocketbook? Is it a justified worry based on your situation, or are you actually like my friend who has plenty but worries anyway? How do you give? Are you someone who donates to causes that matter to you? Do you focus your generosity on family members? Do you begrudge the government for taking your money for taxes? Would you be fine with your taxes being higher? Do you live within your means, or do you outspend your resources? How does that play into your view on how much is enough? If you are a big spender, do you think there is any amount that you would agree is enough for you? How much fear do you have of losing your money and the status that comes with it? How extreme of a situation would it take for you to truly no longer have enough? How likely is that to occur? Does your fear of that loss match up to its probability? If you gave more—in whatever way—would you fear more? Why do we protect so fiercely? Are the wealthy generally the most protective of their money? If so, why? Is there some amount that you could name that, for almost anyone, ought to be enough? How about for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How much is enough for you? 

May you be wealthy in Love and Peace,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to look differently at your relationship with money and how protective you are of it, please pass it on. Share the gift of self-knowledge!

Do Black Lives Matter To YOU?

DSC_0230“…and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” –Audre Lorde

“Your silence will not protect you.” –Audre Lorde

A NOTE TO YOU, THE READER, BEFORE WE START: I want to be clear about today’s letter from the get-go: this is NOT an attack on you. I repeat: Not An Attack. If you have been to Journal of You before, you know that, while I may share my opinions about an issue—sometimes passionately, even—the subject each week is YOU. My story is only to show you a way—ONE WAY—to look at an issue, with the kinds of thoughts I might put into my own daily journal entries to help me clarify where I stand on the topic du jour. It is there to stir the pot of your heart and mind on a topic. The questions at the end of the letter are ALWAYS the important part of the letter. So, as you read today (and every week), remember that this is not an attack on you. If the topic makes you uncomfortable and perhaps defensive, own that. That is the best kind of fodder for your own journal entries, the kind that leads to breakthroughs and A-Ha! moments. Explore the depths of those feelings and emerge with a clarity you have never yet known. Remember, you and I both arrived at this letter today because we are trying to do better, trying to be better. We become better by being open-minded and open-hearted, willing to face even the most dark and uncomfortable corners of our minds and hearts. Thank you for your bravery and for taking this journey with me. Let’s dive in!

Hello friend,

The joy and optimism that I started the week with were instantly ripped out of my heart when I came across this post from a friend in my Facebook newsfeed on Monday evening:

Another Black man killed, this time in Oklahoma. I refuse to link to it because I am bone tired of seeing this. Terence Crutcher’s car was stalled. He had his hands up, no gun, and was shot within seconds of the police’s arrival.

With a mix of anger and heartbreak, like a moth to a flame, I searched for the video of a man’s final moments, images that would only make my pain that much worse.

I thought of Terence Crutcher in those last moments, what must have been going through his mind–the shock, the helplessness and desperation—and finally I thought of the awful senselessness of his death and how his family and loved ones were now left to pick up the pieces. And WHY? That is what I kept wondering. A million different WHYs, but mostly, “WHY is a memory all that they have left of their Terence?”

Gutted from the thoughts of all of this, I decided not to bring it up to my wife that night before I went up to bed. I figured she would hear about it the next day and probably be in a better space to process it then. She is a black person living in America. And though I do my absolute best to learn about the black experience, to empathize, and to do right where I can, I understand that, draped in my white privilege, I cannot possibly understand the depth of her experience or the experience of any other person of color in this country. I take these senseless killings hard—I am outraged and profoundly saddened by them—but I know that it is much, much worse for her. Tears are shed. Difficult conversations are had. There is genuine loss and the grief that goes with it.

So I went up to bed that night thinking I had spared her. I hadn’t. She told me the next morning that she had read about it late that night and had cried it out. We had an impassioned conversation and both shared our frustrations and pain. Her last words to me before she left for work that morning were, “I hope I don’t get shot today.” It was not sarcasm. It was honest hopelessness.

Why should a kind-hearted, law-abiding American have to leave the house with that thought? Ever? WHY???

Listen close, friend: black lives matter to me. Not just my wife’s black life or my children’s black lives. All black lives matter to me. We have a problem of systemic racism in this country. We have an epidemic of stories like Terence Crutcher’s. It is time we all had a good talk about this. Will you join the conversation?

Judging by the reaction to recent attempts to start this conversation lately, I have reason to be doubtful about your participation. Led by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick starting last month, several athletes from different sports have tried to raise awareness for this issue by taking the extreme measure of a silent, peaceful kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at sporting events, because just talking about the issue hadn’t seemed to work. The national response? All anyone seems to want to talk about is their lack of patriotism and respect, meanwhile plainly ignoring the systemic racism and injustice part (i.e. the actual issue).

The much-maligned Megan Rapinoe of the United States Women’s Soccer Team aired her frustrations over this and questioned aloud whether she would kneel a second time—she did—because it didn’t get enough people talking about the issue being protested, but rather only about the method of protest. I think that is an accurate read on the situation. Whether people are conscious of this tactic or not as they are employing it, it serves as a clever way to skirt the major issue, denying the conversation by focusing on secondary details. It serves as the perfect distraction from the real issue. (Check out the upcoming political debates to see this tactic used over and over again, consciously.) Judging from the amount of media coverage and Facebook posts I have seen in recent weeks that talked about the anthem but not the systemic racism and killings of unarmed black people by police, the deflection tactic has worked wonderfully.

I know that I am partially guilty of feeding that side of it, too, as I wrote a post a few weeks ago about it (see “Love It Or Leave It? What Respect Do We Owe to Our Flag & Anthem?”) and really do think the anthem issue is fascinating and worth delving into. But I also recognize it as a completely different topic than the issue at hand. To conflate the two is either foolish, callous, or recklessly indifferent (sometimes all three).

With all that said, still, here we are. I am sitting at my desk with my feet up and my computer on my lap. You are reading this letter I wrote to you, perhaps snuggled in your bed or sitting at the breakfast table.

Terence Crutcher’s four children are without their Dad.

And my wife is leaving the house thinking, “I hope I don’t get shot today.” 

That is sad, not just for her but for all of us. It’s an ugly reality for her, one that the majority of us seem to want to ignore, even in our own minds. And clearly, the meaningful, let’s-really-talk-about-this-issue conversations are few and far between.

Listen, I understand. I do. These conversations are so difficult, so awkward. It is much more comfortable to avoid them. It’s a sensitive issue. You don’t want hurt feelings, either yours or anyone else’s. You aren’t interested in starting a fight. It’s scary to bring it up, because you don’t have a clue how intense the response will be. You could be stepping on a landmine when all you wanted was to dip your toe in the water. You might start a fire, and that is frightening. But you know, maybe a fire is the thing we need right now, something to burn off a lot of the old emotional and cultural baggage that is weighing us down, to allow for a fresh start, new life.

It’s time to stop ignoring the conversations, time to step up to an issue as old as our country. I know it will take courage, but I know just as well that the courage is already inside of you. It is in you to stand on the side of justice. It is in you to acknowledge that although we may all look different and come from different places, we are all part of the same human family. We are in this together. Black lives matter, my friend. Black lives matter. They matter to me.

How about you? Do black lives matter to you? Open up your journal and gather your courage. This is not just a question to stay on the surface with, to look at it philosophically and pronounce, “Of course, black lives matter. Why wouldn’t they? Let’s move on.” Do black lives matter to you? Your answers on this issue and your courage of conviction could mean the difference as to whether you are part of the problem or the solution. Most of us are unwilling to admit that we are ever a part of any problem, and it would be an especially painful admission on an issue of this much gravity. So, let me give you some examples of how your thoughts and reactions to this issue in recent weeks might be a sign that you are part of the problem. Consider carefully:

  • You tend to think that this is an issue for black people only to deal with.
  • You have felt absolutely no outrage about these killings and no temptation to somehow protest. (Or you felt more outraged by the athletes kneeling for the anthem than from the police shooting a man with his hands up.)
  • You are not interested in having the conversation.
  • Your most pressing questions in the Terence Crutcher case were things like “Why was he walking with his hands up and not just standing still?” or “Why was his stalled car in the middle of the road?” (or, in other similar cases, “Well, if he hadn’t given the police reason to arrest him in the first place, none of this would ever have happened.”)
  • You have spent energy complaining to friends about the athletes who have knelt in silent protest for the national anthem but have said nothing about the racism and injustice that they are protesting.
  • You are annoyed that this topic keeps coming up—annoyed at athletes or people on the street holding demonstrations.
  • If you have been drawn into a conversation about race and police violence against unarmed black people, you have made it a point to insert the topic of “black on black crime” and asserted its importance and relevance to the topic at hand.
  • You think of these killings as a new problem and possibly wonder if we are just over-reacting to a few isolated cases, making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • You don’t say the words, “Black lives matter.”

The answers to these considerations may prove to be a difficult pill to swallow, but it is so important to address them. We are all biased—and I mean all—but that does not mean we cannot work to be a part of the solution. We can all begin the courageous conversations. Are you having these conversations already with your loved ones, with your spiritual community, with your social media community? If not, what is holding you back? If one end of the spectrum is doing all you can to confront the issue and raise awareness and empathy, and the other end of the spectrum is ignoring the issue (consciously or unconsciously), where have your actions shown you to be so far? Are you willing to work harder to move the needle toward awareness and empathy? What step can you take today? Leave me a response and let me know: Do black lives matter to YOU?

Be brave today,

William

P.S. If this letter helped you address this difficult topic more directly to yourself, please pass it on. Person by person, heart by heart, that is how change is made. Bless you!