Tag Archives: empathy

The Weaponization of Social Justice

18 Jun

In the past three months I have been doing a great deal of reflection around how to mindfully create space to be more generous and more loving during the extraordinary fatigue of 45. Sadly, I have observed that I and the communities I am a part of and the nation in general are short tempered, ungenerous, quick to anger, quick to judge, and operate from fear and hate, rather than increasing our efforts to be loving and empathic. I know for me it has been difficult to get in the space of being more generous of heart with the daily assaults coming from 45 and his racist, homophobic, ableist, misogynistic, transphobic administration. How then can we be committed to issues of social justice and to be mindfully centered in love is the question I am wresting with currently.

I have, with great sadness, witnessed communities and students where I teach using social justice as a weapon–a weapon to prove how “woke” they are. I will say emphatically right now that none of us are “woke.” My whole life’s work is around social justice and working towards a more equitable world. My colleagues and I are constantly tell people we work with that we are having to hold the tension of messiness of social justice in perpetuity — that we are life long learners and our journey of awareness will never end if we are truly reflective, curious, and come from a place of love and humility.

As of the writing of this article, we are on day 514 of 45’s assault on the United States. The fatigue is real, as we see people in this country pitted against each other and the erosion of empathy and loss of any sense of community. We have to witness and live through more than 514 assaults on LGBTQ rights, on women’s rights (the aggressive attack on Planned Parenthood, on separating children from families and housing them in cages), an assault on civil rights for all people of color —  the list goes on and on. With the deterioration of our nation, I am wanting to engage in conversations and behavior that extend more love and more generosity of heart — to resist the hate that 45 and his administration put out into the universe. I want to make my corner of the universe sane in the face of this overwhelming insanity.

I want to embrace what former First Lady Michelle Obama said: “When they go low, we go high.” And my heart sinks at how much I miss First Lady Michelle Obama and how much I miss President Obama. I am inviting myself and others to resist what is being modeled for us from Fox News, who control 45’s brain — resist operating from a place of fear and hate. We must be mindful and center ourselves in love. I must work to reflect and try to ensure that our actions and words are from a place of love and to create more space for all of us to exist. I know I will fail at this and yet I must dedicate myself to keep trying in the face of so much overwhelming hate and fear, of racism, classism, abelism, homophobia, misogyny, all of the other ways in which we treat targeted communities.

What has been particularly heartbreaking for me is watching people lash out at those who are trying to help and make a difference. For example (and I have her permission to share this), a colleague of mine attended a listening session for the students we teach. My colleague, and friend, thanked the students and then offered: “Thank you, this is so helpful, please tell me what you need so that I can try and meet those needs.” What horrified me was the reaction from a student, a white woman, who came at my colleague with: “Don’t you dare ask what we want — that is putting all of the labor on us and not you. You are acting in a white supremacist way right now.” I hardly know what to say, save that I hope this student will do some reflection and come back to my colleague with an apology. My colleague is Latina and is part of the resistance  movement, so I am also worried we have people using language that they actually lack the sophistication of knowing how to use words with shared meaning.

Another example that was particularly painful was an experience in one of my own classes, where a student told me that: “my job is to listen and to say yes or no, but not to make things messy.”  Wow! Candidly, I consider the lion’s share of my work is to make things messy and to ask people to create more space and more empathy. I can only hope this student, who is now a colleague, will do some reflection and even circle back to me.

Call to action: I invite all of us to try to practice radical love and kindness. While I know I will fail at this probably several days a week, I must commit to staying engaged and working hard to act from a place of curiosity, humility, and love. I must also continue to do everything I can do to help make my world a place that values community and resist the insanity that  is 45, Pence, and their minions. I must center my self in love.

What has been very helpful for me is watching the television show The Good Fight! This is such a brilliant show and my husband and I feel a bit more hopeful, a bit safer, and a bit less anxious after each episode. The amazingly talented Delroy Lindo, Audra McDonald, Cush Jumbo, Nyambi Nyambi, and Christine Baranski, and the rest of the amazing cast of The Good Fight create amazing resistance to the world 45 is creating. We are also watching RuPaul’s Drag Race as a tonic to the hate and fear mongering perpetrated by this administration. While I know it can be extraordinary difficult at times to love people who are actively hurting you, I am trying to sustain the belief and action that being centered in love is the way to eradicate racism, homophobia, abelism, misogyny, and all of the intersections therein. With love and gratitude, Michael.

Basket of Deplorables: The Death of Empathy

19 Sep

deplorable-basketI have been doing a lot of reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s reference to “half of Trump supporters” as a “basket of deplorables.” Initially, I would have preferred she framed it as: I am overwhelmingly concerned with those people supporting Trump, as he stands for all that is deplorable in our country. However, upon further reflection, I must admit, she is simply calling out bad behavior. Note picture of above–peddlers of hate for profit!

When Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” is that not deplorable? Is it not deplorable that people support and encourage that bullying behavior? When Trump made fun of a reporter with a disability, is that not deplorable? Is that not the worst part of our country? When Trump, referring to Mexican-Americans says, “They’re rapists. And some, I assume are good people.” Is this type of racism not deplorable? Trump’s treatment of Khizr Khan and his family was nothing less than deplorable and is a signature moment for Trump, showing his disdain for veterans and those currently serving in the military.When Trump calls for both a mandated registration of Muslim-Americans and a national ban of Muslim immigrants, is this type of racism and Islamophobia not the worst of our country? How awful must this man prove to be? I am nonplussed to say the least.

For all of those people who support Trump’s brand of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and bullying behavior, is this indeed not deplorable? And while I do find it deplorable, I am also exceedingly disturbed and troubled: how do we then reach a population that seems to have zero capacity for empathy or reflection? How do we reach a population full of so much hate towards women, African-Americans, the Latino Community, the LGBTQ community, and the Muslim community?

Sadly, I am able to provide you a map and numbers of people of color harassed by Trump supporters here. I will also provide more disturbing facts from Public Policy Polling: 65% of Trump supporters believe that President Obama is Muslim — this is so troubling in so many ways, I have not the time to fully unpack how awful it is.  59% of Trump supporters believe that President Obama was not born in the United States. Again, this is so very troubling and tells me that there is a certain population that will not be bothered with facts, rather they are fueled by hate. According to Reuters over half of Trump supporters describe African-Americans as more violent than whites and the same percentage of supporters describe African-Americans as more criminal than whites. I’m not sure how to expose racism more blatantly. All of this should be, legitimately, labelled deplorable.

Trump famously shouted at voters of color, “What have you got to lose?” The media gave him a pass, when the answer is clear. We all stand to lose our dignity, self-respect, and shared humanity. Giving in to that would be deplorable.

While it would be quite easy for me to yield to a misanthropic abyss during this election year, I must work hard to reach people and communities and engage in conversations that demonstrate that our country is so much better than Trump and his supporters — that we have so much more potential — that our strength is in our diversity. There is no strength in the politics of rage and separation that works to oppress women, LGBT people, people of color, people with disabilities, and all of the intersecting identities there in. Calling that out, and asking us to be our better selves, well that’s not deplorable at all. Now is the time for us to stand in solidarity against hate!

What Must They Think of Us? The Perplexing Human Species.

28 Jul

galaxy_universe-normalThe past few weeks have given me a great deal to reflect upon: the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian separatists, the continued war between Hamas and Israel (apparently there are now at least over 1,000 civilian Palestinian lives lost), and the not so covert racism and homophobia here in the United States.  When I think about these events and activities in conjunction with the weight of other horrific moments in the world’s history, I am left wondering: What must any existing intelligent lifeforms in the universe be thinking of humans?

While I am not certain there exist other forms of intelligent life in the universe, I do think it is a bit arrogant to think humans are the only intelligent lifeforms.  Lately, I have been thinking how I would hate to be judged by  some of the awful actions of other humans.  I think about how we treat girls and women around the world; how we treat the LGBT community, and people of color. Every time a James Byrd, Jr. is killed, a Larry King is killed, we have painful reminders that only certain people are safe to navigate the world.

While humans have only occupied the earth for the tiniest fraction of time in the over five billion years the earth has existed, we have managed to wreak an amazing amount of destruction.  I can only imagine what one might think as an observer from far away.  I would hate to be painted with the same brush as  Chairman Mao and his agents of the “Cultural Revolution.” Nor would I care to be thought of alongside the triumvirate of Hitler, Stalin, and Franco, or even the 21st Century’s collection of agents of hate and terror. Certainly there have been many wonderful people who tried to improve the world, but history shows us more bloodthirsty crusades than productive, peaceful assemblies.

I still would like to believe that there are more basically good people in the world than basically bad. Sadly, our systems are increasingly set up to let the greedy and jealous grab and hold power. Millions are oppressed and marginalized, unable to use their voices for anything other than basic survival. Millions more are exhausted by longer working hours and horrific commutes, and then we seem to only be able to find some salve by being anesthetized by television.

If we want those hypothetical viewers from distant stars to think kindly of us, we need to engage. My hope is we can take time everyday to reflect on how we work to create relationship with one another. How can we use kindness and generosity of heart? How can we use empathy?

When the dinosaurs — the last great “rulers of earth” — were wiped out, it was by a cataclysm that their basic brains and inability to use sophisticated tools left them unable to reverse or remediate. What will be our excuse?

 

Hero of the Week Award: October 19, Timothy Kurek

19 Oct

Hero of the Week

Just over two years ago, Timothy Kurek was what he describes as a “homophobic Christian.” He believed that the Bible prohibited homosexual behavior and made no effort to reconcile that with true Christian love and charity. Then a close friend came out to him and told him the story of her estrangement from her entire family. That made him think again.

Inspired to take a journey of true empathy, Kurek decided to spend a year masquerading as a gay man. He came out to friends and family and tried to integrate himself into the gay community in Nashville. The experience was more difficult and enlightening than he expected.

He has just published a book about his experiences, The Cross In the Closet, and is touring the country describing the work he did not just to wear a mask, but to open hearts and minds. Although his “coming out” was difficult for his family, he describes them now as active supporters of the LGBT community, a major change from their perspectives before his adventure. Those attitudes have stayed positive even after he revealed the nature of his project.

In less capable hands, the whole thing could come off like a media stunt. Kurek, however, is very genuine. He felt a true calling to understand his brothers and sisters and describes his difficulties as a “gay man” in terms of true struggle and oppression. Significantly, he realizes that his experiences, while enlightening, were still relatively safe.

I will be the first one to say that my experience is severely limited. There is no way I could possibly understand what it’s like to be actually gay. And the book itself is not at all about what it is like to be gay, but only about how the label of gay impacted my external life and how those things kind of altered my faith and challenged my beliefs.

What a wonderful sentiment and expression of true charity and love.

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