There Can Be fear in sharing your beliefs -- in standing up for what you believe
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and JFK took action against social inequity, and they died for their beliefs. Somewhere in my heart lives the fear that If that happened to them, what would happen to me?!
Love In Action
My mother modeled for me the meaning of “Love in Action.” She marched with Cesar Chavez to demand better treatment for migrant workers, calling for clean water for them to drink and protection from insecticide-laden ponds for their children to play in while their parents worked in the fields. A migrant family lived with us for a year as part of my mother’s involvement with the migrant community. She marched for gay rights and, as a social worker, stood up for social injustice where ever she saw it.
I think back to the eighth grade when I learned about slavery in social studies. When I went home, I asked her, “How could a person ever think they could own another person!?” I was confused, outraged and sad. She cried with me and said, “There are lost people in the world who believe they are right. It’s important to know what you believe.” Throughout my life she encouraged me to think for myself and not adapt to “sheep mentality.”
I remember learning about the displacement and horrible history of American Indians and their treatment at the hands of people who again believed they were right. And again, I had long, probing conversations with my mom. In my young mind, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could think it was okay to move these people from their own land and claim it for themselves; it didn’t make sense to me. I wrote a song asking for forgiveness — or should I say I started the song at age 13— but it remains unfinished to this day some 40 years later.
In middle school, I wondered why we were learning these historic facts, but we were not talking about what could have — what should have — happened. We weren’t taught the value of learning from these mistakes and about how to do things differently moving forward. I remember feeling isolated, frustrated and helpless. None of my friends seemed to be feeling any of what I was feeling. Or they weren’t talking about it if they were.
A Transformative Realization
This came front and center for me this summer. In the midst of a global pandemic, I’m seeing one black man and woman after another gunned down by the people we have empowered in our culture to protect all of us. Technology is lifting the veil to reveal what’s been happening for decades — how living in this country is quite different for some people.
It took me a while to recognize the effects these events had on my life. I realized the extent to which I had been profoundly affected by the deaths of the people I knew of who stood up and took action to end social injustice — Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK. These people had modeled for me (and the world) peaceful and powerful ways to take a stand and be part of addressing societal inequities. I LOVED them for that. They spoke up with clarity, fierce determination, love, and dedication. It was empowering! But they died for those beliefs. And in my formative years, my mind somehow made the association that:
It might instead lead to the end of me!
Do the work to learn who I am, dig deep to develop my beliefs, don’t blindly follow the crowd, ask questions, think for myself, know what I stand for
But Don't Be Too Loud about it!
One source of strength throughout my life has been the many, meaningful conversations I had with my mom, dad and sister. Each of them, fortunately for me, fostered and encouraged my self-inquiry and subsequent development. During these countless deep dialogues I learned to sift through ideas and examine my beliefs and challenge the information before me. It helped shaped who I would become. What a blessing to have a family who loved to engage in rich, sometimes uncomfortable, but always transformational conversations. But now they are all gone. So how do I find that sense of “safety” to openly explore my beliefs and take a stand for what I believe is right and to have the kinds of conversations that challenge and open the thinking of others? How can I become the person that the world needs right now?
Now That I Know…
And then I realized that I am that person. My work up until now has prepared me for this. And as I “listen” more than speak and silently go within to explore this with my inner being, that time I spend connecting deeply with myself will bring the discovery I seek. I no longer need to discuss these ideas in the safety of my family. In some sense, those discussions were about my mind sorting things out. Now is the time to go deeper than conversation alone can take me. Now is the time to communicate directly with my soul and do my work.
Now, as I learn more about my own entitlement and engage with others to discuss how this work intersects with our spiritual evolution, I weep with the understanding that what I couldn’t discover simply by talking to those closest to me, I can now explore with the world. I can take every bit of knowledge I gain and go within to explore my feelings, acknowledge any resistance, or uncover blocks, and I can help others do the same.
It’s a dance. If you just do the “mental” work, you don’t get to the root of how this systemic inequality has formed us. You can become angry and shameful, even defensive. Going within is what makes it possible for you to integrate new information and perspective making the real change. Because real change happens when you change; not just change what you do but change who you are.
The night before my sister made her transition we sang
I want to be part of the world healing that is presenting itself in this moment. I think it is time for me to finish that song — if not literally then at least figuratively! And for me that means extending my hand to all others who are ready to step up and invite them to join me in the work of our lifetime. It’s time to recognize the extent to which you feel safe only when you “moderate” or even silence your own voice.
Speak Up Clearly and Loudly When We See Injustice
let everything I do, be out of love.” — Sandra Powell (my mother)