Tag Archives: Civil Rights Movement

When 50 Years Is Forever But No Time At All

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” –Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Hello friend,

All week long I have been ruminating on the life of Martin Luther King. Well, I suppose it is more like 30 years that I have been ruminating on him. Ever since that day I walked into the library of my high school bent on satisfying the intense curiosity I felt about this man, a fascination that none of my teachers and textbooks had quenched. I read and read, and as I did, the feeling grew that I had found my soulmate across the ages. We were connected somehow, like cosmic brothers. Timelessly so.

My hero was murdered 50 years ago.

FIFTY YEARS!!! That feels like an eternity to me! But even for someone as resonant and consistently present in my life as Dr. King has been, “his time” still feels so long ago and so much before mine. In so many ways, I cannot believe it was only 50 years ago that he died!

I think of all those images in still photographs and grainy video. The fire hoses and dogs, the lunch counters and sidewalk beatings, the policemen’s billy-clubs, the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, the many sermons in churches across the South, and the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall for the “I Have A Dream” speech. I always see the Civil Rights Movement in black-and-white. Some time long before me, just like the Great Depression and World War II and Charlie Chaplin. Ancient history.

But the truth is that Dr. King was right before me, and his time bumped right up to my time. He was murdered in April of 1968. My sister was born the very next month. My goodness, I have never realized that! It shocks me now that I do. Even though I can see the dates in my head and I understand it to be true, somehow my mind just won’t absorb the concept.

I nearly shared an era with Martin Luther King.

I am so stricken by that realization just now. In my mind, it was such a stretch to connect us, at least from a practical standpoint; I felt him in my heart, of course, but he was always a character from such a completely different time, as much as my other major influences: Gandhi, Buddha, Henry Thoreau, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fifty years could have just as well have been 500! It always seemed so far before me.

Everything about the 1960s has felt that way for me: Woodstock, JFK, the moon landing, even Vietnam, which went into the 70s. I see now that everything before me feels like ancient history.

And just the concept of FIFTY YEARS seems like forever. It’s so big!

I guess that I fail to realize that I am 45 years old. That is nearly half a century itself. Maybe the fact that I cannot imagine myself as being 50 sheds some light on why I see Martin Luther King as nowhere near my time.

I think this type of view changes with age. At least it has for me. I know that I have made an effort in my adult years to expand my range on this, to make more real the idea that 100 years and 200 years and things like slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and the right of women to vote, that none of that was actually very long ago. I have done it intentionally so that I can keep my empathy and be on the alert for narrow-mindedness and entitlement. It is a process that I have mixed results with, occasionally grasping the close proximity of these events to me, but usually not. I take a lot for granted.

The fluctuating nature of my grasp on this concept of Time seems directly proportional to the level of wisdom that I operate with from day to day. When I am clear how near all of this stuff is to today–a blink of an eye, historically–then I am more aware of how important it is for me to use my voice and my life for good and to speak up immediately and passionately against ignorance and injustice, as those things can quickly gain a foothold and wreak havoc on a generation of unsuspecting souls.

I feel like I owe it to my children and future grandchildren to take the long view and realize just how brief a half-century is, how near we are to the previous one, and how quickly the next one will pass. It pushes me to take ownership of my era, to try to leave a better legacy than my generation seems to be allowing to transpire right under our noses.

I don’t want my future grandchildren to look back at this time–my time–and think, “What fools and cowards those people were in that age! How badly they behaved toward one another and toward the planet! They nearly destroyed everything, and barely anyone spoke up on the side of right. How short-sighted they were. Thanks goodness we know better!” I hope that we can see and confront the error of our ways in the present and leave a better legacy than we are on track to.

Fifty years goes by in a blink. That’s what my mother tells me. We can do a lot of good or a lot of bad in that amount of time. When I think about those black-and-white images from the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s death–and when I remind myself that that was only one blink ago–I understand the kind of seismic shift we can make in the next blink, one way or the other. Dr. King and every other brave person who spoke, marched, and bled for civil rights in the 1960s made all our lives immeasurably better. But our potential for greater things is limitless. There will not come an era when it will be acceptable to say, “Okay, we have done enough to improve the world for ourselves, for humankind, and for our planet.” The time will always, as Dr. King says, “be ripe to do right.”

If you are reading these words, you are in the midst of one of those 50-year blinks. Someone is going to look back in wonder 50 short years from now–it might be you, it might be your grandkids, it might be the History books–at the time in which we are living. They will see the images we daily create: school shootings, climate events, cowardly displays of greed and short-sightedness from our elected leaders, showdowns over nuclear weapons, killings of unarmed Black men by the police, and lots of people taking selfies as the rest of the list goes on in the background? Will they be impressed or aghast at us?   Will they find any heroes in their review of our time, anyone like Martin Luther King?

These questions haunt me now in this rare moment of clarity about how quickly time flies by. At least for this moment, before something distracts me and clouds my vision, I want to make a bigger commitment to make this historical blink–our blink–a more positive one. A time for growth and for progress. I want this blink to be characterized by an increase in EMPATHY and a corresponding natural boost in Social Justice and Peace. I want it to be characterized by an awakening in our hearts and minds about the disastrous effects of our actions (and those of our ancestors) on each other and on our planet, and with that awakening a newfound conviction to live bigger and better than we ever have before.

I sincerely hope that with that awakening and conviction come heroes. It would be a shame to be a party to an era that leaves behind no heroes for the next era. It reminds me of the John Mayer lyric from his song “Speak For Me”: You can tell that something isn’t right when all your heroes are in black-and-white. I hope that for the sake of the coming generations, we can leave behind a legacy of moral progress and broadminded vision, and some genuine heroes, too.

Dr. King died 50 years ago this week. Perhaps the more staggering fact is that he was alive for only 39 years. If History blinked, it would have missed him. That’s how fast it goes. But if you do it well, as Dr. King showed us, your blink can shine forever. I want my blink–our blink–to be better. The thought of my hero inspires me to rise up and do my part to make it so.

How about you? Do you realize how quickly your era is passing and the impressions it is leaving in the greater evolutionary journey of our species? Open up your journal and contemplate this infinite topic. What is your sense of the magnitude of 50 years? Does it seem like forever to you–taking you to some foreign territory like a black-and-white film that you can’t make real in your colorful mind–or does it feel like just a little while ago? Do you think this is entirely dependent upon your age–i.e. 50 years seems like nothing for people older than 50 but feels like forever to people younger than 50–or are some people just better at comprehending our tiny spot on the vastness of History’s timeline? As a 45-year old, I grew up with color TV shows but also some after-school re-runs in black-and-white (e.g “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Three Stooges”) that I always had trouble connecting with. Do you think the switch from black-and-white to color images in photos, TV, and movies will change what seems “contemporary” to this and future generations, or will our color images seem old and unrelatable to them, too? Are your heroes from your lifetime? Has the past 50 years–the time since Dr. King–produced a proportionate number of heroes to the other historical eras? If not, what is it about our era that is lacking such that we have not produced the kind of people who are worthy of our idolatry over the long haul? It seems reasonable that with social media and the Internet, this era’s potential paragons of virtue would be easily visible and widely accessible to a broad audience, making it seem likely that we would produce an exponentially greater number of heroic figures than previous eras. Are we? What will be the legacy of our era–this blink–when people look back at it 50 years from now? Will it be all of the negative stuff we see on the news everyday–the corruption and cowardice in Washington, the shootings, the climate change–or is there something greater at play that we are missing amidst all of this narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness? Or is that very pettiness and folly going to be our legacy, the thing that sticks out to the writers of the History books? Perhaps. Now switch gears: what would you like the legacy of this era to be? How different is that than where it appears to be heading now? What could we start doing differently to get it going in the direction you want it to go? Is it a reasonable ask, or are your hope and our reality a bridge too far to cross? What can you personally do to make our era more like the one you would like it to be remembered as? Is that something you can begin today? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What lasting impression will this historical blink of an eye leave upon History?

Be your biggest,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I hope you will share it on your social media. We need to grow the conversations that make us better. Thank you!

P.S.S. If you haven’t read the Journal of YOU book yet, you can find it on Amazon or any of your other favorite online booksellers. Please leave a review if you have. Thanks!

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.

Why Are You Here?

DSC_0963“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I watched the movie “Selma” yesterday. It was about the Civil Rights Movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for the fair and equal treatment of Black Americans, in this case as it pertained to voting rights. It has really stayed with me, this film, creeping into my consciousness as I move through my day. I was captivated by so many different aspects of the film and the history behind it. One angle that really grabbed me in a unique and powerful way, though, was Dr. King’s resolve and willingness to go back into the fray—being beaten and jailed and leading others into situations that ended in their deaths—over and over despite serious doubts and guilt over so much spilled blood. And then there was his family. He carried the dual burdens of being taken from his wife and kids for long periods of time and also, by virtue of his leading role in the movement and the explosive mix of ignorance and violence that defined the opposition to it, the knowledge that he and/or his wife and children could be murdered at any time. I could not help but keep asking myself, “With so many reasons to NOT keep working for the cause—really big, life-or-death reasons—what kept him going back in?” 

The answer I keep coming back to is that, deep down inside, he knew what his life purpose was. He knew that he was alive for a reason, and that to turn his back on that purpose would be to disrespect his Maker. He had a calling. A reason for being. A purpose.

I latched onto this aspect of “Selma” so strongly because I have been lately in the process of defining my own life purpose. I am going through the process as part of my Life Coach Training Program. It is no small task, either, let me tell you. Along the way, I have had to address what my needs are and what I value most in this world. I have tried a number of different exercises designed to help rank my values. I am not talking about chosen values—standards that I have adopted and held myself to—but rather about core values, which are things that I feel I was born with, things that have been with me all my life. The exercises—indeed, the entire process—have been very revealing.

Boiled down into one-word answers, these are some of my core values: spirituality, self-knowledge, teaching, purpose, growth, family, service, connectedness, health, and authenticity. These things get right to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick. They provide wonderful clues to my life purpose, but they are just the beginning when it comes to trying to define it succinctly.

The next phase of my homework was to make a long list of examples of times in my life when I knew was living “on purpose”. That is, times when I felt completely in the flow, energized, and as though things were effortless. I quickly jotted down more than twenty times in my life when I felt that way, ranging from when I was a teenager all the way up to the last year. My list included many times when I was writing, including writing my very first blog to you. I was on fire with passion for what I was doing, and the work and the cause filled my sails. It was effortless. I also noted many times when I was teaching, from private tennis lessons to Philosophy 101 classes. It included times when I have spoken publicly, including when I performed my sister’s wedding. That felt right to me. I also felt right and true in the simplest moments with my family, as well as hiking alone in the mountains or swimming in the ocean, feeling totally connected to the Divine.

I then took time to write a bit about each of these examples: what I was feeling and what about them struck such a deep chord in me. Next, I combed through all of my descriptions for recurring themes and words that resonated with me. It turned out to be not so different from the list of core values I had already made. Words that kept surfacing were: Connected (with the Divine, with others), Inspire, Dreams, Growing (personally and spiritually), Motivate, Teaching, Sharing (my love, traditions, my message), Challenging (myself and others, moving beyond the comfort zone), Family, Creativity, Self-Improvement, and Improve the World.

With clarity regarding both my core values and the recurring themes of the most “on purpose” moments of my life, I was feeling ready to write my purpose statement. After some tinkering with language, this was my first draft:

The purpose of my life is to help people—myself included—to live their best, most authentic lives by teaching and inspiring them to know themselves better; to be grateful for all that they are and have; to challenge themselves to grow spiritually and experientially; and to honor and pursue their dreams.

I was kind of liking it, actually. It named the things I want to do with my life, and that hit me in a good spot. It rang true.

However, I felt the pressure to make it short and sweet, so I started chopping. To a writer, cutting out words is like killing your babies, so it was no picnic for me, I promise you. My condensed draft looked like this:

The purpose of my life is to teach and inspire people—including myself—to know themselves better, to connect to the Divine, and to follow their Bliss.

While I wasn’t so sure I liked it better than the long version, at least it was concise. I figured I would put them to the test with my teacher when I got to class tonight. I was feeling pretty confident.

As it turned out, the joke was on me. I got to class tonight, and he started explaining life purpose statements and the differences between purpose, mission, and vision. You see, mission statements talk about the ways we are going to fulfill our purpose. They are action statements. Purpose statements, on the other hand, identify our calling or reason for being. Curses!!! While I had thought I had two pretty solid versions of my purpose statement, what I really had were a long and a short mission statement. Back to the drawing board!

To get to my purpose rather than my mission, I need to focus on Who I Am more than what I am going to do to express who I am. At my core, who am I? Why was I born? Why am I here? What is in my soul’s code? With only a few minutes of reflection—and what will probably be the first of many drafts—I suppose I would answer this way:

I am a catalyst for self-knowledge and authenticity. 

Yeah, I suppose that about sums me up. I want people to know themselves deeply and to own themselves completely, including the honoring of their dreams and their own unique path in life. In a way, I think my purpose is to help everyone live their purpose. Or, is that my mission? Whatever! In any case, I think I am starting to understand why I am here. And that’s the whole point, right?

How about you? Why are you here? Open up your journal, and get ready for some deep diving. What are your core values? Can you name your top ten? If you had to get it down to three—and really, you don’t—what would they be? Are you living from those values now, or are you off-course? Think about the times in your life when you have felt most “on purpose”. Write them all down, and then elaborate. What were you doing? What are the common themes running through those experiences? Do those themes mesh with some or all of the core values you listed? Now, write out your Life Purpose Statement. Be as concise as possible; really try to boil it down to your essence. And don’t play small! Your purpose is magnificent, so name it and claim it. How difficult is it to crystallize your calling? Have you always known what it was, or is it only now becoming clear to you? I think writing a mission statement is really helpful, too. I accidentally wrote mine first, which gave me some good clues as to how to write my purpose statement, but I think it probably works best to know who you are first before stating the way you are going to fulfill that purpose. In any case, do the work. Dig. Ask yourself some tough questions. And take the “shoulds” out of it. What do you really value? Who are you really? Not who do you wish you were, or who do you think you should be to make others happy or proud. WHO ARE YOU? There is no greater question and no more important answer. Leave me a reply and let me know: Why are you here?

Your truth shall set you free,

William