In the wake of the tragedies that befell Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the growing epidemic of racial tension, violence, and general unrest in our country I wanted to write an article that would address potential causes of distress within ourselves and how we can overcome it. Increasingly people are being divided within our community, among our friends, and even within our families. Hashtags propagate almost like gang symbols pitting brother against brother and sister against sister. This environment is creating dissonance and hostility within ourselves in addition to the areas listed above. REaction is overcoming and overpowering PROaction. The people of this nation are angry and much of that anger is both righteous and just. In response to that anger we are reacting and that reaction is firmly inflamed by fear, ignorance, and self-indulgence — the three impediments. We must transform, within ourselves, the reaction into proaction through courage, acceptance, and gratitude — the three openings. The intention of this article is to point out how that is possible in spite of how bad the world looks right now and to foster a spirit of hope through action.
The Impact of Fear
The deepest and most obvious root of today’s strife is fear. Fear is the foremost of the three impediments and the strongest instigator of a reactive mindset. The term “fear-mongering” is bandied around a lot in today’s political climate and, despite our seeming awareness of the fear-mongering, we are continuing to fall prey to it. Unfortunately, in order to draw greater awareness of how fear is impacting us, I must call attention to its current use within the world. This is going to be absolutely polarizing and that is not my intention. Rather my intention is to bring awareness to our own fears in the hope of uniting us in courage and love.
Politically Donald Trump and his supporters continue to feed fears of Muslims, immigrants, and anything or anyone deemed unamerican. The idea of a wall between us and Mexico gives physical manifestation to these deep seated fears. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her supporters engage in fearmongering as well. I have had Clinton supporters tell me, someone who doesn’t want either candidate in office, that a Trump presidency will be an attack on women’s rights and congress will have absolute say over a woman’s body. Readers of my blog and close personal friends will know that I am a full supporter of female empowerment and a devout follower of the sacred feminine. Yet I cannot support these statements as I believe fearmongering of this type is antithetical to the sacred feminine and, instead, empowers dark feminine thinking. Fear is not the answer.
Fear continues to be fostered through the continual use of media coverage and propaganda regarding race-baiting, gender-baiting, bathroom use, bedroom play, etc. What are we afraid of? What is the root of this fear? Here are a few things to consider within yourself regarding your own fears of the above. First, above all, is the fear of paradigm shift. This fear exists across the board. There exists the fear that rights we have always held will no longer be our rights. There exists the fear that our culture will fade away to be replaced with a culture we don’t understand. There exists the fear that at any moment we can be shot and killed at a traffic light. There exists the fear that anyone in any particular subculture may be out to harm us — Muslim terrorists, Mexican cartels, white supremacists, black gangs, homosexual agenda pushers, heterosexual haters, feminist man-haters, patriarchal woman oppressors and all manner of over-exaggerated archetypes. Answer this within yourself. What is it that you are afraid of when you react to others?
Succumbing to Ignorance
Fear’s greatest tool is that of ignorance. Ignorance is not equated with a lack of intelligence. Rather ignorance is the lack of knowledge. Fear, at its worst, is fostered within a sea of ignorance. If we look first within ourselves what is it that we truly know about ourselves? Often we know a lot less than we think we do. If we as individuals are made up of the combination of cultural, social, and familial history and values then so too are all the subcultures that our fear is being fostered against. Universally we are woefully out of touch with the plight of black Americans whether through years of slavery or persecution and judgement up through even the late 20th century. We are ignorant of Islamic history and culture and apply word-for-word translations to an ideology that doesn’t itself rely on word-for-word translations. We are ignorant of the social and economic need for Mexicans to send loved ones and family members to a new country because their families are back home starving and fighting everyday to get by. In fact, if you could indulge me for a moment, most Americans don’t understand Mexican hardship because they perceive Mexico by its tourist sites like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas — sites that specifically cater to tourists and do not accurately reflect life of the average hard-working Mexican family.
Ignorance infiltrates the very fabric of our knowledge and pretends to be all-knowing. Armchair experts rise up with their fears quoting scriptures from the Qu’Ran that “prove” its vile and evil in nature. Bible verses are quoted “proving” that a particular group of people is going to Hell. Homosexuals are targeted as if they are going to convert straight men to their “queer” ways. This ignorance perpetuates among race, religion, and culture as well where parties on one side refuse to understand the historical relevance and identity of the other side. The pride that exists within the level of ignorance we hold onto is simply astounding and, frankly, is the largest contributor to the complex fear generator.
America has reacted to its ignorance and fear by creating a culture and environment of self-indulgence. We are afraid of being attacked verbally, emotionally, and physically and thus we shelter ourselves. Within that faux protective shell we indulge our fears by drinking, smoking, eating junk food, playing video games, trolling the web, living on social media. This self indulgence is disconnecting us from our fellow humans and we are learning less and less about ourselves and each other. In fact we are leaning less and less on one another. This powder keg of self indulgence isn’t just about creating a generation of laziness and entitlement. It is fostering a sense of nihilism that is pandemic.
Imagine for a moment that life really doesn’t matter. Nothing you do means anything. When you die nothing happens. The world you live in involves a revolving door of disappointment, bitterness, and torment. This has become your entire being. Some, in these instances, will be content to simply die. I know because I was there. Others won’t be content to just die. They will want to take out as many people as they can when they do so.
When Omar Mateen opened fire in the Pulse it occurred to me that this may have been the very situation he faced. In the days following the shooting several “facts” began to emerge. He pledged allegiance to ISIS, he was secretly gay, he was a loner, he was abusive. Imagine again, for a moment, that this man saw the world from a nihilistic point of view. Would it matter, to him, whether or not he pledged allegiance to ISIS? He might do it thinking to himself, “America is full of <insert ad hominem slur here> and it doesn’t matter what I do in the end anyway. I’m going to kill in the name of ISIS.”
Reaction to fear and ignorance is incredibly self-indulgent. A riot is a violent reaction that affects zero social change and sends an overt message of divisiveness rather than one of unity. This is vastly different than revolution where people band together under a unified banner of courage to affect real and lasting change. Revolutions are had for all people. Riots are had for ourselves.
The poisonous combination of fear, ignorance, and self-indulgence has created a powder keg environment and the spark has been lit. Thus a revolution is needed here and now, but the revolution must be directed inward before we can direct it outward. We must revolt against the tyranny of fear, ignorance, and self-indulgence and replace them with courage, acceptance, and gratitude.
Courage Opens Up Hope
Courage is just the opening we need to find within ourselves to enact real and lasting change within our communities, the nation, and the world as a whole. Courage is that trait we carry that, when facing the deep abyss, we understand that there is land on the other side. Right now our nation, as a whole and individually, faces an incredible abyss. Yet there is no abyss that is infinite and there is always land on the other side. With courage we understand that there are others out there who hold compassion in their hearts and strive for a better world as much we do. That knowledge provides us an anchor with which to cross that dark chasm. With a world exceeding a population of 7 billion it is impossible to not have others with the same outcry for justice as we have. Courage means facing those differences that each of us has and understanding that others, like ourselves, are simply striving for a better life in every which way that we are. To believe anything else is to give in to fear.
When we consider cultural differences we are often overly concerned with the influence the other culture has upon ourselves. As we discover courage within ourselves we begin to understand that the culture we are clashing with is filled with people just like us who are trying their damnedest to just get by. If we look at racial tensions and violence, rather than creating an “us vs. them” environment, let’s recognize that within the sea of people there are millions of allies. If you are an oppressed black woman then reach out as there are millions of asian, white, native, jewish, christian, muslim, buddhist, and others who stand by you!
In fact the initial response that, “No one understands what I’m going through!” is an utter fabrication of the fear based mind. Courage allows us to transform that statement into, “Millions are going through what I’m going through. I need to reach out so that we can go through this together!” I’ve known many people within the mental illness community, including myself, who would argue that no one could possibly understand their situation. This narrow-minded fear response closes them off to an entire population of compassionate men and women who would love to offer assistance. Even when understanding isn’t perfect, as fear-based responses request, there is compassionate understanding out there if we have the courage to find it.
Accept Diversity and Unity
Acceptance is another opening for us in which we can make progress towards unity. We begin by first accepting that we, ourselves, do not have all the information. We must accept that the only thing we can potentially have 100% accuracy on is our own thoughts and feelings. In many cases we don’t even have that and that is okay. When two parties engage in a conflict, even if you are one of the parties, only half the story may be known. The two can share, out loud, all they want to and still only ever share a fraction of what is going on inside. If interpersonal relationships play out in this way then, on a more macroscopic level, that is how groups, cultures, and nations act as well.
If we view subculture as a singular organism then it becomes even more clear where conflict arises and tensions grow. Like individuals the black community has been influenced by its culture, history, and peers. Imagine for a moment that you have spent your life enslaved, abused, experimented on, freed from slavery but then segegrated and denied your basic human rights and denied a voice. Certainly things may have improved since then but you find it difficult to reach out, to be vulnerable, and to make friends with others. Every individual abuse victim out there can relate to this. It is those who haven’t been through abuse that cannot relate to the interpersonal difficulties brought about by abuse. This isn’t an excuse, but rather a clarification in order to find unification through acceptance. What about police culture as a single organism? You want to help others so you go through all the training required to do so. After the training has completed you take an oath to serve and protect. Your heart begins in the right place but after years of struggling with ineffectual bureaucracy, unending crime committed by the same people over and over, no true view of rehabilitating criminals, being overworked and underpaid, and eventually your worldview begins to change in order to survive a field once chosen for altruistic purposes. The police organism continues to see other organisms in very specific and negative ways.
Once we begin to see subculture as a living organism we can begin to accept who, what, when, where, and why we face conflict when we do. Only then can we break the organism back down to the individual level and accept that not every police officer is bad and not every person of color is a criminal. The Jewish community is phenomenal in this regards. Their culture is entirely built upon learning and accepting their history while having an eye on the present and future. They celebrate the individual as much as they do the group. This level of acceptance is something that we must practice as individuals each and everyday in order to show the rest of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, that acceptance of both our differences and similarities will lead to lasting peace.
Gratitude for What Is
Finally we approach the greatest opening to peace — the practice of gratitude. Gratitude has a near magical effect on our environment and ourselves. When we truly show gratitude to others a peace washes over us and washes over the benefactor of our gift. Imagine how you felt when you read that story on social media about the black woman and her kids approaching a police officer in his squad car and thanked him for his support. That story affected everyone! The cop felt better than ever. The woman felt better than ever. Those with whom the story was shared felt hope and courage for a better tomorrow.
The practice of gratitude begins within. We find the courage to seek the positive attributes we intrinsically hold. We accept that they are true and real. We express gratitude to ourselves for finding and knowing them. I am grateful for my ability to write, to tell stories, for shining a light on the divine feminine, for being a good father, and for being True to myself. Once we have practiced gratitude enough for our positives we can explore practicing gratitude for our negatives.
The word “negative” culturally implies that a thing is bad or harmful. This simply isn’t the case. Acceptance and gratitude for our negatives allows us to grow within our positives. It’s necessary to me to show gratitude for my sensitivity as it is an expression of my empathy just as anger is an expression of my passion and fear is an expression of my courage and vulnerability. As a community we need to begin immediately on following these same steps. Let’s express gratitude for our cultural diversity and how, through it, we can find unity. Let’s express gratitude for those who do uphold the oath of “serve and protect” so that those who are corrupt have no more power over us. Let’s express gratitude for every small moment in which a life is protected so that we can prevent senseless violence. Finally, let’s express gratitude for one another and for the gifts and challenges we give to one another for every gift is only as great as the challenges it took before receiving it.