Tag Archives: racism

Hurricanes & Health Care, Russians & Racists: How do you deal with it all?

“Perhaps there could be no joy on this planet without an equal weight of pain to balance it out on some unknown scale.” –Stephenie Meyer, The Host

Hello friend,

I got a big jolt on Monday night right before I fell asleep. I was in bed doing a very quick perusal of the day’s news on my tablet before I was to begin my usual book reading that always knocks me out. I popped on the ESPN app and noticed a picture of the Dallas Cowboys kneeling in a national anthem-themed protest, the last of many that seemed to gobble up all of the oxygen over the weekend. Then I flipped over to Facebook, and one of the first things that came up on my Newsfeed was a post from Dan Rather, who was sharing his thoughts and a photo slideshow about the devastation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. His thoughts are always poignant, and they led me to click on the link to the slideshow. What I saw was absolutely heartbreaking, an island decimated by the storm and so many of my fellow Americans without power, water, or help from a country that had just spent the last couple of weeks falling over itself to help the people and communities ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It was quite a jolt, as I said. It was bedtime, though, so I forced myself to let it go and get to sleep. The jolt came right back to me the next morning, though, as I began my breakfast. My first, almost-panicked thought was, “Did I forget to share that slideshow??? People need to know!!” So I opened up Facebook on my phone, found it again, and shared it.

As the day went on, I was increasingly fascinated by my intense reaction to the images from Puerto Rico. Not my sadness or my empathy—that part was totally normal for me. The part that intrigued me was the terror I felt at missing this important news while it was happening. I realized that my panic at not absorbing the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on my fellow human beings was borne out of one thing: GUILT.

How could I have given those poor folks in Texas my emotional investment one week during Harvey, and those poor folks in Florida my emotional investment the next week during Irma, but then hardly notice when these poor folks in Puerto Rico were in even worse condition last week?  

I was very disturbed by this. My conscience was definitely eating at me. I felt like I had failed my moral obligation by not paying closer attention and lending my positive thoughts and my voice through my writing and social media posts, if not through direct monetary donations to the cause. I try to give voice when people are in need, to raise awareness and empathy, hopefully leading to both emotional and monetary resources being lent. But I had definitely let this one slip past me.

I started questioning my focus, looking for reasons why I had let my guard down and missed lending a voice to people who clearly needed all the help they could get. Maybe I was just looking for a good excuse. If I couldn’t get relief for my guilty conscience, I at least wanted an explanation to settle my mind.

I didn’t have to look far. It was right there in my journal entries and my social media posts and shares. I had spent the last several days deeply embedded in the controversy around the national anthem protests. This has actually been a pet project in my head for the last year, but it seemed to overtake the nation last week in the wake of the President’s incendiary comments and the reactions by football teams. It was a firestorm, at least in the view of the media that ultimately decides which topics will gain the most buzz and largest viewing audience.

I, of course, got into it. As I said, I latched onto this topic with Colin Kaepernick a year ago and have become increasingly invested, so I have read a lot about it, from both the historical and factual side of it as well as the many opinions swirling about. So, even though I think that much of the reaction from NFL teams was hypocritical and more of a response to the attack by the President rather than actual concern for injustice against people of color, I took advantage of the attention the topic was getting again and shared what I thought were some solid, helpful articles on social media. My attention and emotions were definitely on the topic, anyway. And since they were there, they were NOT in Puerto Rico. So, I missed it (or nearly so).

By way of excuse-making, though, it was totally obvious that nearly everyone missed it. The coverage on all of the networks and news outlets seemed as focused as I was on the national anthem and NFL’s response to the President. It was the media-driven firestorm that distracted us from the real storm in Puerto Rico and the desperate American citizens trying to survive in its wake.

I am definitely not trying to blame this on the media. They have taken more than their share of criticism this year, much of it unfair. Still, it is fascinating to me how completely dialed into the coverage of the previous hurricanes in Texas and Florida they were and then how clearly NOT dialed into this one they were.

I have no doubt that the NFL’s battle with the President over the national anthem is more sensational for the media to cover than the third consecutive week of hurricane coverage—is “hurricane fatigue” a real phenomenon?—but this situation in Puerto Rico is beyond tragic. I know that by the middle of this week it finally gathered some traction in the news, but we were all about a week late on this one. And when you are dealing with the health and welfare of fellow human beings—not to mention fellow Americans—that is a full week too long.

I know my guilty conscience was earned, but I think I am not the only one who should be feeling those pangs.

My point here is not to wallow in that guilt or to make you wallow in it—really, it’s not–but really to wonder about our responsibility toward the events of the world around us and how spread out our emotional energy amongst the wide array of issues.

Living in America in 2017 with the President that we have, it feels like one crisis or drama after another. We don’t need actual hurricanes to stir up our fears and our outrage or engender empathy toward people getting a bad deal; we have human-driven storms already (dozens of them) for that. We are living a storm! At least that is how it feels to me.

So, after I have used my journal or my wife or Facebook or whatever as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on for things like anti-Muslim travel bans, threats of the loss of health care, Nazis and White supremacists marching in our streets, Russian corruption of our government, the killing of another unarmed Black person by police, or the White House denying climate change, it is hard work to then add forest fires (the thing that no one paid attention to before they weren’t paying attention to Puerto Rico) and three consecutive hurricanes to the emotional load I am carrying.

I know some of those are things to be outraged about and some of them are things to feel empathy about—and some are definitely both—but what if my outrage and my empathy get emptied from the same barrel? It feels like I only have so much emotional energy to give these dramas, and whether it is my heart breaking for the people in Puerto Rico or my outrage at the government’s slow response to it, I feel like it is all draining that barrel.

I just don’t know what to do about it. I want to be here for my world, an active participant in fighting injustice and helping those in need. But, just like last week, I feel like if I keep my eye on one ball, the others all fall out of the sky. I hate the helplessness and guilt I feel when that happens. I just don’t know how to spread it out the right way.

How about you? How do you spread your emotional energy around in these turbulent times? Open up your journal and write about the issues that move your needle and your process for balancing them in your head and heart. What types of things in the world get you stirred up? Presidential tweets and character issues? Racial injustice? Health care? Humanitarian crises? Forest fires? Religious persecution? Terrorism? National anthem protests? White House firings? Hurricane damage? Congressional ineptitude? Climate change denial? Taxes? Potential wars? White supremacists? Are your hot button topics more things that make you feel sad and empathetic, or things that make you feel outraged? Do you think that these things draw from the same well of energy? That is, does depleting your supply of one leave less of the other, at least at the temporarily? Do you ever feel bad that you emptied your barrel on “outrage issues” rather than “empathy issues” or vice versa? How big is your capacity to spread yourself amongst all of the issues that seem to run roughshod over our world today? Are you able to stay updated and also engage with them all emotionally? If not—and you are human, so I am guessing you cannot—how do you manage your attention and distribute your emotions according to your priorities? Are there certain issues (e.g. politics) that you just avoid altogether? Do you take “timeout” periods when you basically bury your head in the sand to replenish your heart and mind for the inevitable next round of drama? Do you “tagteam” the issues with friends or family members so that you can share the burden and use each other for emotional support? Do you feel guilty for “missing” an issue—like my lateness to Hurricane Maria—or do you see that as necessary for survival? Are most of these issues as big as we make them out to be, or are we overblowing them? Has the news media gotten us all hooked in their web by making so many things seem so urgent and necessary for us to attend to (then immediately moving on to something else)? I would love to hear how you spread yourself out, because obviously I am struggling with it? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distribute your empathy and outrage in these emotional times?

Be Peace first,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it with others. Let’s support one another!

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.

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!

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!

Love It or Leave It? What Respect Do We Owe to Our Flag & Anthem?

DSC_0641“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” —Muhammad Ali 

This week has found me totally captivated by the story of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem before a preseason football game. When asked after the game about this highly unusual action, Kaepernick explained himself: 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. …This is not something I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. …If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” 

BOOM! Fire started.

The backlash was instantaneous and venomous. Social media was flooded with videos of people burning their Kaepernick jerseys—this age’s trendy way to protest a player’s actions—images that were quickly picked up by the mainstream media. Memes slamming him were everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone seems to be weighing in. I have heard commentators in and out of the sports world, as well as other professional athletes, describe his actions as “ungrateful,” “unpatriotic,” “selfish,” and “pathetic.” There has not been a lot of support. That much is clear.

I have actually been pleasantly surprised, though, by the number of sports people who have at least acknowledged that the cause he is trying to stand up for—or, rather, sit down for—is an important one. But most of these same folks still think the anthem is the wrong way to address it.

Much of the pushback seems to be military-related, as in, “You disrespecting the flag/anthem is a slap in the face to all of the people who have ever fought for the freedoms you are exercising with this action.” Another argument seems to go more like, “How dare you disrespect the flag of a country that allows you to earn millions for throwing a football? This country has given you everything!” There are certainly others, but these themes are pretty constant.

Nobody seems to be questioning if he has the right to do it but just whether he is right to do it. The most common answer: No matter what your issue is or how big it is, you just don’t disrespect the flag or ignore the anthem.

But, really, why not? Is the answer that black-and-white? Should it really be that simple? I don’t know.

I suppose I grew up thinking of the anthem—and the American flag—as “sacred,” something that you just didn’t mess with. No matter what. Sort of like The Bible, I suppose: you could Pinkie Promise or swear on your life and maybe get by unscathed if you broke it, but you didn’t dare put your hand on The Bible and swear your oath unless you were absolutely certain. It was flirting with the Devil. I remember being in complete shock when I first saw someone burning the American flag on the news. I couldn’t believe it. I just didn’t know that was even an option. I suppose that for most people, something like that happened when they heard about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, like “What? No. You don’t get to sit for the anthem!” 

For some reason, though, I didn’t have that reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I was startled by it, because I knew it was taboo. But I wasn’t outraged. I wasn’t even really dismayed. More than anything, I was fascinated.

I think I was fascinated as much by my own reaction as I was by his motivations and how it would be received. I was aware that I was okay with what he did, but I felt really odd about being okay with it? I wondered if I should be as outraged as almost everyone else seemed to be. But I just wasn’t. I think it was because the more I considered the issue, and particularly his motivation for sitting out the anthem, the more I realized what a complex web of issues was involved. It was a lot more grey than simply black or white.

I know that much of the sentiment against Kaepernick and his statement can be summed up something like this: “He’s a disrespectful coward, and he has no gratitude to the country that has made him rich and famous. Pathetic!” 

I understand that sentiment. I really do. I think it’s the easy reaction, and if things were only black or white, I would probably end up with that reaction, too. But, as I try to empathize with him and really take the words he says seriously, I find myself feeling another way.

My guess is that Colin Kaepernick grew up a lot like I did, and probably like you did. He probably cheered “U.S.A.!! U.S.A!!” at the television during the Olympics like I did. He probably looked at the flag and the anthem as sacred, too, and was probably shocked when he first witnessed a flag burning. And because I am inclined to see him as more like me—just like most everyone in the world—than different, I have to believe it took some serious soul-searching, lots of inner turmoil, and finally some real bravery to take this bold action. That much I can definitely respect. I also figured out something important: that I can separate the fact that I respect him for his convictions from the entirely different issue of whether I think the final display of his convictions—sitting for the anthem—was a wise or foolish choice.

I also look at the flip-side of the argument that he has no grounds to sit out the anthem because he has made millions of dollars by living in this great country. The flip-side is that he actually has a lot to lose by making this statement. Endorsement dollars, potential job opportunities, fans, relationships. He didn’t ask any teammates to join his protest because he immediately felt the public backlash and didn’t want to subject them to it, too. But he was willing to kneel for the anthem for this week’s game, too. With all that he had to lose, he did it anyway to keep getting his message out there. I can appreciate that kind of courage.

Finally, he didn’t seem to be pulling this as some immediate reaction to an incident that happened to him. As far as we know, he was not recently a victim of police violence or profiling. So, it wasn’t obviously a personal thing. He has previously been outspoken on social media about civil rights issues. This is all just to say that I give some credence to the idea that he was actually using his large public voice to speak for the voiceless. He was taking a stand for others who had less power to stand for themselves. That, all by itself, is admirable to me.

In the end, I still can’t say for sure whether Colin Kaepernick sitting out the anthem is “right” or not. I definitely think the cause he is speaking up for is a worthy one, but I don’t know if sitting out the anthem succeeded in bringing enough of the right kind of attention to the cause or not. The issue of him sitting clearly blew up in the media, but did the issue of racism and police violence against people of color blow up as well? Are people talking seriously about that now, too? I hope they are, but I am not sure. I think the jury is still out and waiting for time to tell us if the protest will be successful.

So, would I do it? Would I sit or kneel for the anthem? I never have before. I like to think that I am quite aware of and sensitive to the way our country and our culture has systematically failed large groups of people, including the ones Kaepernick is standing up for. America has a history of deep, dark injustice that has not been well addressed and thus continues to be a cancer on us all. Those things are worth a protest. But America—and by extension, the flag that stands for it—is also about ideals. There are lofty philosophies—freedom, equality, justice, and more—that our nation strives to be a model of. The flag symbolizes those ideals and also the people who fought and died to give the rest of us the chance to keep striving for them. In my mind, of course I know we haven’t lived up to those ideals. Societally, we fail regularly and miserably at that. I get that, and I can see why Colin Kaepernick wants to remind us that we need to do better. But I also understand how, at least for me, it is important to stand for a couple of minutes sometimes and listen to a song that reminds me of the ideals that we all so desperately need to keep striving for.

How about you?   How do you feel about the idea of someone sitting out the national anthem in protest of America’s shortcomings? Open up your journal and see if you can flesh out the complexities of this very polarizing issue. First, what is your initial, gut reaction to hearing about this protest against the flag or the anthem? Is it a strong feeling, or just mild? On a scale of one to ten, how patriotic would you say you are? Do you think that patriotism dictates the severity of your reaction to this issue? Is Kaepernick’s cause—racial injustice and police violence against people of color—important enough to tread into such a volatile (though peaceful) form of protest? Has it so far succeeded in getting you and those around you to think about or discuss these issues? In your sphere, has the racial injustice discussion been overshadowed by the anthem/flag discussion? Do you agree with me that it required courage and conviction to protest in this way? Can you respect and admire those qualities in him even if you disagree with his actions? Would you sit out the anthem for this cause? Is there anything our country could do—e.g. enter into an unjust war—that could make you sit out the anthem or desecrate a flag? Should we honor our anthem and flag because of the ideals that we would like the country to stand for—and the people who fought for those ideals–or because of how the country actually is? Should the flag simply be out of bounds when it comes to protests, i.e. should Americans salute it no matter what is happening here or what types of conflicts the country is participating in? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do we owe to our flag and our anthem? 

Be your best today,

William

P.S. If this helped you to consider this difficult topic in a new light, please pass it on. Let’s spread the empathy around! Bless you.

My Fellow Americans: A Patriotic Challenge for You

DSC_0646“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” –John F. Kennedy

Hello friend,

Happy Independence Day! This is one of my favorite holidays, because, at least where I spend it, there is a nostalgic, America-in-a-simpler-time kind of feel. It feels wholesome and good, the way I want to feel about my country and my countrymen.

It is a crazy time that we are living in. Bombs are going off seemingly all around us. People are killing each other in the name of God and country. Politicians running for our highest offices are trying to provoke fear and hatred (which will, of course, lead to more bombs and more fear). There is an atmosphere of “us” versus “them,” and you can decide on the Flavor Of The Day for who the “them” is going to be: Muslims, the police, Black Lives Matter, the government, the Christian Coalition, women, immigrants, Democrats, Mexico, the media, China, the LGBTQ community, refugees, Republicans, you name it. The list goes on and on. Who can I blame for my troubles? Who should I fear? Who is definitely NOT me? Simply open your eyes and ears—to Facebook, Fox News, Twitter, or your local watering hole—and you will be told any number of answers to these questions.

There are all kinds of “them” out there, very few of “us.” At least that is what we are told. It can feel kind of scary, I admit. Kind of isolating. Like you just want to huddle together with your little “us” and live your life, however small it has become from all of this antagonism and fear-mongering. I get it.

But I don’t believe that is what “America,” the concept, is all about. And I don’t believe that smallness—that scared, angry smallness—is befitting of We, The People of this amazing country.

So, on this week of celebration of our country, in this age of fear, hate, and isolation, I have a challenge for you.

My fellow Americans, I challenge you to be bigger.

I challenge you to rise above the characters on the TV news and the snarky memes on Facebook and the politics and the racism and the xenophobia. I challenge you to see those things for what they are when you meet them (which you will do many times per day), and then rise above them.

Stand up to people when it’s necessary. Call out bigotry and narrow-mindedness when you can. Do not be silent on issues that really matter. But don’t dirty yourself in the process. Offer your insights with grace. Let people know that you respectfully disagree or that what they are saying offends you. That can be done with kindness and without anger, no matter how disgusted you may feel in the moment. Rise above it.

Seek first to understand people. Before you rush to judgment based on someone’s appearance or ancestry or personal history, try to find out where they are really coming from. What is in their heart? What matters to them? How are they like you?

Give people the benefit of the doubt. You have no idea what burdens any other person carries. You don’t know whose mother just died, who just lost their job, who just got the results of their biopsy, and whose marriage is falling apart. You just don’t know. So give people a break. Let it go. Rise.

Find common ground. This has been a tough one during this election cycle. Republicans are commanded to simply disagree with whatever the Democrats say, and vice versa. Both sides are suffering for it, as are the rest of the people who don’t want to be stuck on one side or the other. But it is not just a political thing. It is a religious thing. It’s a global thing. And it’s a neighborhood thing. We are all—and I mean all—so much more alike than we are different. Seeking out the ways we are alike humanizes each other. It makes everyone less scary, too. Choose that.

Seemingly on the flipside of finding our sameness, try to recognize that each person is different, even members of groups that have big names, like Muslim, Mexican, and Republican. Uncover the nuances that make each person unique. Don’t let a politician define for you how a Muslim acts. Or a Mexican. Or a Republican. Open yourself to the richness of the tapestry woven into each group, even if others want you to believe it is just one thread, one color. Then you won’t be surprised when you meet that Mexican Muslim Republican who lives down the street!

No matter how much you educate yourself, try to remember how much you don’t know. Let that keep you humble. And let it keep you ever searching for more knowledge and a greater understanding. Grow.

Dare to be yourself. Understand what lights you up and do more of it. Speak your Truth (respectfully, of course). If that means you don’t fit neatly into a box or a political party, great! Whatever you do, let it come from your heart. It sets a wonderful example.

Be the one who reaches out, who lifts another up. There are so many people who need help. A job. Advice. Money. Encouragement. Food. A warm smile. A place to stay. Someone to sit by. An acknowledgment of their worth. You have the power to give something. Find what it is and give it.

Expand your circle. Look more strangers in the eye. Look for ways to connect with people who have different life experiences than you. Allow those connections to help you to better empathize. Expand.

In the end, my fellow Americans, I suppose my challenge to you can be boiled down to this: Choose to act from Love rather than from Fear.

 Trust me, if you operate from a place of Love rather from Fear, you will instantly find yourself living bigger. Your surroundings will look completely different to you. Opportunities to learn, grow, and give will appear everywhere you look. Interactions with people who are different than you will excite you rather than scare or aggravate you. You will begin to find similarities where once you found only differences. At last, you may even come to understand the truth in the phrase, “When you see nothing but yourself wherever you look, you peer through the eyes of God.”

I challenge you to get there. And I believe you can. Believe me, I am working on these challenges myself. I see the beauty of Life increase with each step I take in the right direction. It gives me hope.

Hope for myself. Hope for you. Hope for us all.

I feel like our country needs that right now. It needs a whole bunch of people taking steps in the direction of Love. It needs a whole bunch of people to be bigger than we have been. Our future depends on it. It depends on you. I believe you are ready to step up to the challenge.

How about you? Do you accept my challenge? Open up your journal and explore the ways that you can—right now—begin to live a bigger life, a life based more in Love and less in Fear. Perhaps the process begins by identifying the times in your life when you operate out of Fear. Which people—either individuals or groups—seem to draw that out of you? Are you able to articulate what it feels like when you operate that way? What is it about those people that triggers you? What makes you act small? What purpose does it serve for you? Do you feel better or worse because of it? Does looking down on some person or group—or hating them, or badmouthing them, or blaming them for your problems—make you feel stronger? Is it energy well spent? When was the last time you really got to know someone from a different walk of life than you? How did it benefit you? When was the last time you really helped someone who needed it? Do you make a habit of it? How does it make you feel when you help someone improve upon their existence? Do you find it is usually worth your effort? How good are you at maintaining a level of class and grace when you are strongly disagreeing with someone? What triggers you to sink to a level you later regret? How diverse is your circle? Are you willing to try to broaden it? How will you start? On a scale of one to ten, how compassionate are you? How well do you empathize with others? How well do you understand your own privilege? How humble are you? I think that if we all put in the effort to bump up our scores on each of those questions, we would be better for it. Better parents. Better sons and daughters. Better friends. Better neighbors. Better citizens. We could make a better America together. Leave me a reply and let me know: Will you take my challenge with me?

 Be bigger today,

William

P.S. If you believe the challenge is worthwhile, pass it on. Let us rise as one!

Racism in America: How Far Have We REALLY Come?

DSC_0061 2“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”   –Rosa Parks

Hello friend,

Last weekend, there were two pretty amazing stories in the news. First, it was the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in Alabama, which was a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. That event fifty years ago–and those days of Jim Crow and the blatant, overt forms of racism that were commonplace and accepted in so much of this country— usually feels like a million years ago to me. I am thankful for that.

When I hear the words and see the deeds of so many old, raised-to-be-racist folks, I often have the thought, “Not that I wish them ill, but just the same, it will probably be a good thing when this generation dies off.” I like to see my generation as significantly more progressive, open-minded, and inclusive. Then I see the current generation of kids—my nieces and nephews and other students of mine—and how much more they are exposed to in the media and via the Internet. It seems to be the norm for them to have knowledge of—even if they are not always close with—historically marginalized people. Whether that is White kids having more Black friends, or high schoolers finally being willing to come out as gay, it feels as though we are on a one-way track to equality and acceptance in the current generation of young people. I love it!

But then comes the second amazing news story of last weekend. This was the one out of the University of Oklahoma, where the members of a fraternity, in a party bus and dressed in formal attire with their dates, were filmed while gleefully chanting a song about never letting a Black person—their word choice was not as politically correct as mine—into their fraternity, including a line about lynching. And this is where our seeming express train to equality and social justice jumps the track. What the heck?!?!

I first saw the video last Sunday and was completely floored by it. Of course I was outraged, too, but I was just so totally stunned that this would be happening in a group of college students from the current generation. It disturbed me greatly in that moment, but I also happened to be very busy right then and thus moved my thoughts past it out of necessity. It was two days later, driving alone in my car, when the topic re-entered my life via a talk radio program. Suddenly, the scab that was forming over my initial reaction was violently ripped off. Out came the emotions that had gone dormant in my busy-ness. In an instant, I became so sickened at the thought of this incident and the vivid image of the merry, fist-pumping, tuxedo-clad leader of the hate-filled chant. My gag reflex kicked in hard as a wave of nausea swept over me, and I very nearly had to pull the car over. Then tears came to my eyes in the sheer sadness of the whole thing. I was truly devastated at the thought of young people still living this way. Then I was smacked again with the realization that other people have to exist in their world as the targets of such hateful and narrow-minded people. The final straw was the thought of my own children—each half-Black and half-White—becoming victims of such blatant ignorance. It is a terrible thing to have to consider, to put it mildly.

So, when something like this happens in my country—and yes, I know this is only one incident and that many examples from the headlines of recent months, from Ferguson to New York City, could have been chosen—and my rose-colored glasses are ripped from my eyes, I have to wonder, “How far have we really come?” Seriously. Despite all of the outward signs of progress and of living peacefully amidst difference, how far could we really have come if a bunch of White, educated, middle-and-upper-class, college-age people are chanting gleefully about excluding and lynching Black people?

Like I said, I normally go through the world with rose-colored glasses on. Sure, I am aware of so many of our societal shortcomings, but I also tend to see people as inherently good, and I tend to be naturally inclined toward looking for the ways we are collectively moving forward. I am an optimist and a believer in our greatness. So when something like this blatantly racist chant finds its way into my consciousness, it is a real gut-punch. As I said, it makes me physically (and psychologically) nauseous. And beyond that, it just really makes me sad. Then I start to question my optimism. It is a quick path to me feeling very disillusioned. Are all of my assumptions about people incorrect? Have I given us—especially the younger generations—too much credit? Are we still mostly a bunch of ignorant, closed-minded bigots?

In my moments of disillusionment, it may be hard to see, but I really do my best to grasp for a more forgiving, positive outlook. I have to cling to that outlook in order to keep going. I know that there are an increasing number of examples of inclusivity and social justice in our society today. I also know that, despite the fact that kids may be exposed to a few more things from the Internet and the media earlier than we would like, they are also getting to see a lot more examples of diversity than we were as children.

I guess I just have to be cognizant of the fact that the influence of those aforementioned old, raised-to-be-racist folks isn’t going to just magically disappear simply because Hollywood has become more progressive. Those old bigots had children and taught them what they knew, and now those children have children. And even though awareness in general has been raised and political correctness is a force, those things do not automatically demolish generations of racism passed down. Bigotry is a learned thing. That racist chant on the party bus did not sound like something those students just made up that night. They learned it the way generations before them learned it. I am reminded of the funny-but-wise comment by the comedian Denis Leary: “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Perhaps it is best to admit from the outset that what we see as America’s greatness was built on a foundation of racism. Our early and enduring relationship with the American Indians and the African people brought here as slaves set the tone for a difficult and obstacle-filled path to equality and social justice in this country. There are traces—and sometimes full-blown imitations that reveal themselves in viral videos—of those attitudes and injustices that remain today. It is not an easy skin to shed.

But despite these challenges passed down from our ancestors, I also see the signs of real progress. I see people who were raised to be racist but instead have chosen to walk the path of inclusion and respect. I see people who, for all their ancestors taught them, should be swimming in bigotry, but they have chosen to be accepting of difference. And I also see amazing teachers who are showing us all what it means to go beyond mere acceptance and move into celebration of difference. I go on my Facebook feed and see friends who daily share such wonderfully uplifting stories and educational articles on social justice from multiple viewpoints. These are our teachers! See them as such. And finally, I see myself in the mirror and know that every day, in every interaction, I have a chance to teach Love. If I can lead with Love, I believe that we will be a step closer to becoming the people I KNOW we can be. I am ready to take that walk together.

How about you? Where, in your opinion, are we as a country on this path out of our racist roots and toward a model of equality and social justice? Open up your journal and think about your relationship with the issue of race. Ignoring your true feelings and opinions, how were you actually raised to feel about and treat people of other races? What were you taught? Were you more influenced by your parents and family, or by society at large and the messages in school or the media? How big of a disparity was there between the message at home and the one from society? On a scale of one-to-ten, how racist were your parents? Was their racism directed mainly toward one particular group, or was it spread pretty evenly? On that same one-to-ten scale, how racist are you? This is probably something that doesn’t come up in regular conversation—or that you might not dare to admit the answer if it does—so your journal is the perfect confessional. Did you score yourself more favorably than your parents? If so, do you think that is because you had better influences in society as a whole, or did you simply not like what you saw in their attitudes and determined to do better for yourself? Would you say you are more or less racist, on the whole, than your siblings and friends? How about compared to the average American citizen? What is the most overtly racist thing you have ever done or said? How do you feel about that now? What is your reaction to something like the Oklahoma fraternity video? Do you think things like that are more commonplace in this country than we realize, or is that really an abberation? Leave me a reply and let me know: How far have we really come?

Teach Love today,

William

The Fine Line Between Compromise & Cowardice

DSC_0144“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

Hello friend,

A couple of nights ago, my wife shared with me some wonderful news about one of her oldest, dearest friends. Then she followed it with, “She is just the sweetest person on Earth. It is too bad she is incredibly homophobic.” Huh??? My sensibilities had just been completely offended by such a statement, and my mind started spinning with questions and challenges. How could you call someone “sweet” in one breath and then point out her severe intolerance in the next? How can you claim to be so close with someone who embraces such bigotry and not even challenge her on it? Even more, how can you even be friends with that person? What does that say about you?

These questions were flooding my mind, and I had to take a step back from the situation to keep my blood from boiling. I am probably on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to how quickly I am offended by intolerance and bigotry. I am highly sensitive to racism, sexism, classism, and in this case, heterosexism. Thus, I had to fight myself to keep from pouncing on my wife’s statement about her friend’s seemingly contradictory personality traits of sweetness and homophobia.

You see, I hold my wife to a very high standard. She runs a multicultural center and is a highly conscientious and brilliant educator in the field of tolerance and diversity. She has been a shining example for me to follow in the many years we have been together, so the bar is set high regarding the people I expect to find in her inner circle. Thus, even as I was struck a bit sideways by the mere idea of a “sweet homophobe”, I was shaken even more by the fact that this walking contradiction was her dear friend. How could she fraternize with a bigot? Where were her high-minded ideals of tolerance and inclusion? Had they been compromised? Was my wife–this paragon of virtue–actually a spineless coward?

Before I let my idealistic image of my wife crumble in front of my eyes, I needed a reality check. I needed to understand just how glass my own house was before I started throwing stones at hers. I started combing through my mind and my history to dissect my closest relationships. I wanted to know if, and to what degree, I had compromised my own standards to make friends and to keep my loved ones dear to me. Maybe I was spineless, too?

I didn’t have to look far to find examples. My family is the greatest. Of course I love them all, but more than that, I genuinely like and respect each of my siblings and my parents. I very much look forward to every chance we have to get together; these are my favorite times of the year. BUT—there just had to be a “but”—there are definitely things that don’t get talked about for fear of upsetting the applecart. Several years ago at Christmas, I mentioned casually that I was no longer a Christian. BOOM!!!!! It was like a silent bomb went off. No one has spoken about the topic in my presence since. Then there is politics. I grew up in a house that worshiped Ronald Reagan and all things Republican. As far as I can tell, the rest of the gang (and their extended gangs) has remained pretty far—some very far—to the right. I, on the other hand, lean heavily the other way on pretty much everything. So, do we have a dialogue on the important issues of our time and the way our country is going? Heck no! We stay as far away from that as possible. Nobody wants to start a fight or to risk thinking less of someone that is going to be in his life for a long time. Avoiding the conversation keeps everyone from exposing themselves. Our silence keeps the peace. Denial runs deep.

My dearly departed father-in-law wanted nothing to do with his Black daughter dating—much less marrying—a White man. It wasn’t personal–it didn’t matter that I knew him before we even dated and never had a problem with him—the rule was for any White man. He openly denounced the relationship from the start, and carried it to the point of not attending his daughter’s wedding. He was always kind to me when I visited his house after our marriage, and my wife continued to dearly love and even admire him to the day he died. Still, it was tough to wrap my mind around, and despite his friendly actions, I never quite got myself to the point of real comfort around him because I could not untangle the web that could hold such extremes of belief and action. My wife, though hurt by his disapproval, remained as loyal and loving to him as ever.

It reminds me of the way we idolize people and want to see them one way, subconsciously blinding ourselves to the not-so-heroic stuff. We see Christopher Columbus as the brave explorer and discoverer of America, neglecting the land-raping, slave-taking parts. We see Thomas Jefferson as the author of our Constitution, top-tier President, and one of the most brilliant men in our country’s history, conveniently looking right past his history of holding (and having children with) slaves. We see Martin Luther King only as the great Civil Rights champion, ignoring his infidelities. We shield ourselves from the truth in order to make things fit more comfortably in our minds. Caricatures are easier to deal with than complexities. This goes as much for our heroes as for our loved ones.

Is it even possible to have it all one way, though: to see our loved ones as entirely commendable and agreeable, to sit comfortably with everything they do and stand for? As it turns out, human beings—all of us—are complicated creatures. We are not cartoon characters, so plainly hero or villain. No one is completely clean or completely dirty. Despite our greatest efforts to paint each other entirely black or white, it turns out that we are all a big, messy rainbow of grays. If we chose only to love the pure, we would all surely be lonely souls.

So, we do our best. We love those whom our hearts can’t help but love. We love our family members through some cosmic-genetic-magnetic force that pulls us together in that “no-matter-what” way that we can feel but can’t quite explain. We love our friends because we fell in love with their best qualities when we met and now cannot simply choose to fall out; they are residents of our hearts whether we like it or not.

For all of these residents of our heart, we find a way to make peace in our mind. It is a delicate balance of trying to see the good in them without being in total denial of the less savory elements. We become managers of our interactions, chemists desperately trying to avoid a combustible mix. We choose to steer clear of conversations that will explode in our faces, only dealing with certain issues if they are thrown hard at us to the point of inevitability, and even then only briefly and tactfully. We choose our battles.

There is no doubt that it requires a certain level of denial. There are just things we don’t like to think about when it comes to our loved ones. Even more than thinking about it, we definitely avoid actually confronting the offending companion. Be honest, do you really want to have a dialogue—either internally or with the problem person—about your father’s racist comments? Do you want to address your best friend’s homophobia? How about your sister-in-law’s belief that poor people are poor because they are lazy? No, as repulsive as all of these things make us feel inside, there is no doubt that our tendency is to deflect them as best we can, steering instead toward safe harbors of conversation in the service of keeping the peace.

But how much can you swallow—how much can you compromise your principals—before you reach the point where you feel entirely spineless? The answer, of course, is different for everyone. Much, I suppose, depends upon how much we feel like we “need” the relationship (frequency of visits certainly plays a role as well). If we are willing to let it go—obviously not as convenient with family as it is with friends—we may be more willing to take the risk. Sometimes we take the risk because the relationship cannot be let go of (e.g., if you and your sibling have fought and made up a million times before, you might think one more round for a good cause is worth the family drama).

Whatever the justification, it seems that we, more often than not, pretend that our loved ones’ unacceptable views do not exist. We sweep them under the rug. It is, whether conscious or not, a compromise of our beliefs in the service of keeping the relationship. But perhaps it is really much more than a mere compromise. Maybe that is putting a nice face on it. Perhaps it is more accurate to call it cowardice or spinelessness. After all, if you are not sharing your Truth or not addressing your loved one’s Truth for fear of disliking each other, aren’t you living like a coward? It takes a lot of courage to be who you are and accept others for who they are.

That was the one part, in hindsight, that my complicated father-in-law had down. He may have openly disapproved of my relationship with his daughter, but he didn’t shut her out or stop loving her because of it. They both spoke and lived their Truth—and agreed to disagree on how she should live her life—and kept right on loving and admiring each other despite their differences. They were able to meet each other right where they were and accept the other’s beautiful complexity rather than living in denial and pretending everything was wine and roses. Perhaps that is the courage we should all aspire to. Yes, I think I will start there.

What about you? How do you justify spending time with/accepting/loving someone who holds views so antithetical to who you are and what you stand for? Get out your journal and write about your relationship with your loved ones. Which ones can you share your Truth with and fear no drama? Which ones do you not even want to hear their Truth?  How willing are you to challenge someone on their actions or beliefs? Does it make a difference if that belief regards you (e.g. your race, sexuality, politics, etc.)? Are there people you avoid at family gatherings, knowing they will say or do something that will make it hard for you to hold your tongue and keep the peace? What issues are off-limits when you get together with family? Are those issues different when you gather with your friends? Which of your relationships could withstand a challenge like this? Which relationships would crumble? What does the answer to those two questions say about how you should value the relationships in each camp going forward? Maybe you would be doing both parties a favor with a challenge. Is there one relationship in particular in which, if you don’t challenge them soon, you will pass from the point of compromising for the sake of keeping the peace to the point of feeling like a spineless coward for not telling your Truth? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you draw the line between compromise and cowardice? 

Surround yourself with Love,

William

Thanks, America!

DSC_0061 2“Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.” —Wale Ayeni

Hello friend,

I love that quote by Wale Ayeni. As a proud American–but one who is often quick to point out the faults and idiosyncrasies of my government and my society–I have to remind myself sometimes to insert the word “country” in place of “life” so that the quote can read:

Be thankful for where you live. Your country, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.

And it is. America has been the fairy tale Paradise for countless people across the world for the last 700 years. The Land of the Free. The Land of Opportunity. These monikers are not to be taken lightly. People have killed and died for the opportunity to live here. They still do. This country is a beacon of HOPE in a world that desperately needs it.

“America” as a CONCEPT is truly magnificent. The philosophy that this country was founded and built upon is above reproach. It is tough to argue against the types of freedoms laid out for us in our Constitution. Conceptually, we are fantastically idealistic. Then you have the Oprah Winfreys, the Michael Jordans, the Bill Gateses, and such: all of these examples that show you that no matter where you start, you can hit it big in America. This place is, quite simply, bordered inspiration.

In contrast to the idealistic paragon of virtue and freedom that is “America the Concept”, the way we the people–as a society and a government–have acted has not always been so virtuous. Beginning with the European arrival in 1492, which was the start of a long and ongoing series of atrocities against the indigenous people of this land, the American people have often acted, well, un-American. We have enslaved and dehumanized others for all sorts of unsatisfactory reasons. We have been small-minded on social issues and pressured so many of our fellow citizens to silence their Truths—their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their political views—or be ostracized. We have not reached down to lend a hand to others in need, either across the world or in our own neighborhood. We have too often abused our position as the militarily strongest country in the world. In short, the actions of “We, the people”—and those of our government—have often come up short of the idealistic standards and philosophies that our nation was built upon.

As I mentioned, I am often the one pointing out our shortcomings. I want to be honest with myself and my kids about how we are doing–both as a society and as a nation–and that means owning our ongoing history of oppression. However, just because I can acknowledge the reality of our human failings, it does not mean that I cannot be truly inspired by the people of this country and the wonders that are available to us here. I am still totally in awe of “America” the concept. I love that I get to write these words without fear of my government censoring them. I love that I get to define my version of the Divine without repercussions. I love that I get to vote. I love that I was free to marry someone whose skin is a different color than mine, and I love that so many other people are recently being allowed to marry as well. I love that education is important here. I love that I can go anywhere. I love that I can dream big and have the audacity to think those dreams just might come true. But mostly, I just love that I can live my Truth. I love America!

Think of all the people around the world suffering under oppressive regimes, unable to express their opinions, practice their religion, embrace their sexuality, educate themselves to the level of their potential, and just otherwise live their Truth. America, at its best, is a Paradise in comparison. We have a long way to go as a society in terms of addressing our deep-seated “isms”—classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.—but there is nothing in our nation’s philosophy that prevents it. There is already a framework for greatness. It is ours for the taking.

I love our potential. It is truly mind-boggling. If we can begin to consistently align our actions with the ideals and liberties that America was founded upon, there is no end to the amount of good we can do, both for ourselves and for others. We might be the best thing going right now, but just think of how much better we could be. Think of what the nation’s founders believed we could be.

I have faith that one day, “we the people” will live up to the ideals that founded our borders. I am grateful for the ideals—they are wonderful guideposts–and grateful in advance for our ascent toward daily practice of those ideals. God bless America, sure, but please bless us, the people of America, and grant us the wisdom to act well. It is we, the people, who get to determine if this magnificent concept called “America” gets to transform into “America the Beautiful.” We have the opportunity to create our own fairy tale. Let’s go for it! Together!

How about you? How do you feel about your country? Open up your journal and write out your heart. What bothers you about your homeland? How has it stifled you and the full expression of your Truth? Do you ever feel embarrassed that you live here? Can you think of another country that you would prefer to live in? Which of our “isms” weighs you down the most? How can you play a part in producing a more inclusive and supportive society? What do you love most about your country? Which liberty do you enjoy most here that you know is restricted in other countries? Are you aware of how lucky you are? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you grateful for your homeland? 

Be a light today,

William