This year has had many awful, heart-wrenching, and darkly laughable moments, and, while I prefer this to be a positive, creative space most of the time, sometimes I simply need to break away from the recipes and shopping wishlists and staged house photos to talk about much bigger things.
I often feel venty, rambly, and ineffective when sharing my thoughts on events like those that took place this weekend. And I frequently turn to the books, essays, speeches, songs, and other works of my most admired activists, authors, and role models to help me fully form my own thoughts about a situation, to consider it more deeply, or, in many cases, move forward from it.
After spending a great deal of time pouring over the social media posts, news articles, video clips, and conversations that resulted from the violence in Charlottesville, I was reminded that in times like these, I’m not alone in turning to the words of others to make sense of it all, to learn from it, educate myself and others about it, to gain strength and hope, and to move toward the future.
In this particular instance, I felt drawn back to the words of one of my favorite poets and civil rights activists, Dr. Maya Angelou:
“Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
In a long, long history of hateful beliefs and acts, not a single good thing has come from any of it. Perhaps in its aftermath, when those left standing move forward with courage and love, stronger from the pain, but at what cost? How much damage must occur before that point is reached?
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
We shake our heads at past atrocities and struggle to wrap our minds around how on earth they ever came to manifest and transpire. What kind of people could lead the charge of such barbarism, and worse yet, what kind of people could let it happen without speaking up and fighting against it? We fear the idea of such oppression and violence happening in the future – fearing for our children, our grandchildren. And yet, it’s happening. Right now. Who is leading the charge? Who is going to let this fire continue to burn out of control without attempting to smother it with even the smallest of actions? You? Me? Will our great, great grandchildren shake their heads and struggle to wrap their minds about these events, wondering what kind of people we were to sit back and silently watch?
“People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We all have those insecurities that were likely worsened when someone at school – a decade or more ago – chose to point them out, make fun, and bully us. We may not remember exactly what they said or did, or how they said or did it, but we still live with the sting of whatever it may have been. Imagine encountering this bullying, this discrimination from hundreds and thousands of people who are prejudice against you – for your freckles, your blonde hair, the way you walk, the way you talk. Sometimes they shout it at you, sometimes they say it while pushing you down in a crowd of people who cheer for your scrapes and bruises, sometimes they coldly stare and whisper it into their friend’s ear while you pass by. And knowing that your entire family – those who came before you and those who will be born long after you’re gone – will experience this same heavy weight of narrow-mindedness and maybe even violence. Sure, you have a support system to pat you on the back and wipe away your tears, but that lingering burn will never go away.
“We are only as blind as we want to be.”
Scroll past the headlines, turn off the news, shift the conversation. Like a crack in the foundation of your dearest relationship, like a cancerous mass, like the child being abused next door, you can choose to ignore what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, and that horrific, deadly consequences may result because of your decision to turn a blind eye. Every option is there to educate yourself, your family, your friends, and every resource is available for you to take the action you feel in your heart is right.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that, in diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.”
President Obama shared a powerful quote from Nelson Mandela over the weekend: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Funny how we can claim to be so “cultured” by savoring delicious foods created in faraway countries, getting chills from a performance dreamt up by someone who doesn’t speak our language, traveling to foreign lands to snap photos of places with histories we know nothing about, and yet fail so miserably to discuss the diversity, the religions, the traditions, and the people that exist outside of the four safe walls of our suburban homes. Instead, we warn our children not to trust others if they don’t look, sound, or worship like us, squeeze their hands a little tighter in certain parts of town, and pretend not to hear when they ask why the kids down the street can’t come over to play.
“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”
Again and again and again and again. On scales small and large, personal and worldwide. Especially when it comes to fighting for what is right and good and fair.
“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
True story. The end.
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
If we can reach a place where we love ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and yes, in some cases, even our enemies, then hope for a better future is stronger than ever.
“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Standing up for what is right isn’t easy. In fact, it may take more courage than you think you can muster. Were you ever the kid in the cafeteria or on the playground or in the locker room who saw another student being bullied? Did you say something to the bullies? To your teacher? There were plenty of times I didn’t because I didn’t want to fall victim next. I didn’t want to seem like a tattle-tale. Maybe I wasn’t friends with the kid getting picked on and told myself it didn’t matter if they were being hurt. But that didn’t make my silence and my lack of action right. It was just safe. Decisions like those, I regret to this day. Yet, I can still remember my whole body quivering, my voice shaking, and my heart racing when my decision was to speak up. And how good it felt afterwards. Sometimes it takes courage simply to be kind.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
If you can find that courage though – that courage to be kind and just and loving and true to yourself and to what is right – through sweaty palms and shaky knees and trembling lips, the world will be a whole lot better for it.
All other images via Popsugar.