To the Editor:
I begin with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King which, from the moment I first heard it, gave words to my experience as a black American woman:
“We must all learn to live together as sisters and brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his letter from the Birmingham Jail
With this quote in mind, I want to tell you why I am not going to get on a bus and join many of my women friends to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as our 45th United States president. I need to start by telling you a story about my childhood.
I grew up with an angry, violent, and extraordinarily intellectual father. I spent my childhood and much of my adulthood either physically afraid of him, emotionally afraid of him, or both. And the strategy I employed to cope with my dad, whom I simultaneously worshipped and feared — whose approval I desperately sought — was to try to anticipate what he wanted so that I could be whatever that was. Perhaps then this gnawing ache in my heart, this deep desire for acknowledgment and approval from my dad would be satisfied … I was always trying to come up with a new trick, a new act, some spectacular skill or story or accomplishment — anything to attract his attention and receive his respect.
It never worked.
But something else happened: I began to understand that what keeps me weak and off balance — what causes me not to shine and not to show up in my full power — is the desire for acknowledgement from some authority outside myself. While I was waiting for someone outside of me to recognize the light that I am, my life didn’t feel worthy. Looking for acknowledgment and approval from a father, a teacher, a community, an authority, a government, a country, is a recipe for smallness, for a life of servitude and victimhood.
I had been attempting to bargain for my father’s love, and yet I never felt loved. All I ever felt was afraid. I learned that real love cannot be found through bargain-making.
What I see is that many of us have made a bargain with these United States of America, much like mine with my dad. We find ourselves in an approval- and acknowledgement-seeking relationship with our country, trying to keep up with its frenzied pace, and its arbitrary rules and norms. We ignore our inner knowing, our gnawing conscience that says our priorities are upside down — we value money making and status building over loving and living. We have been chasing the approval of this materialistic culture to the detriment of our own light, and kowtowing to the power structure in order to gain its fickle favor.
Physical appearance, possessions, where we live, with whom we vacation — these are the trinkets for which we have willingly given away our light, our power, and our inner knowing.
And now, we have a president-elect who is too unfiltered for our liking. He is simply revealing what has always been lurking underneath the veneer of a nice American life. We express outrage at his misogynism and racism, and we accuse his supporters and those who voted for him as harboring the same values.
What we have created is a country in which we can avoid people whose ideas and ways of being make us uncomfortable. We are living in bubbles of our own making — we only talk with people who agree with our point of view. We decide what someone’s motivations are without actually ever asking them, and we feel justified in judging them — justified in separating ourselves from them.
In our desire for trinkets and comfort we do not value real love. Why? Because real love is messy. Real love is hard. Real love is looking directly at our own judgements, prejudices and shortcomings and deciding to change. Real love is listening — truly listening to someone whose opinions are different than our own, until they know they have been heard. Not tolerated, but truly heard. Real love is seeing that we are indeed tied together in the single garment of destiny — that what happens to one of us happens to us all.
The flaws for which we are criticizing Donald J. Trump are symbolic of the messy, difficult realities of life in America that have been present since we became a country, and the solution to these difficulties all lie outside our middle-class comfort zones. We have wanted these messy realities to stay hidden. We want to tell Mr. Trump he has to change in order for us to feel good about ourselves as Americans. There is no cheese down that tunnel, folks. The change we are seeking can only come from ourselves. We cannot get Mr. Trump to change. We have to change.
We must decide to learn to live together as sisters and brothers lest we perish together as fools. We have to look at how we think about, speak about, and envision each other. What inclusive vision do we hold for the least in our society — the poor, the ill, the elderly, the mentally ill, the addicted, minorities, the incarcerated, the homeless? What grand vision do we hold for ourselves as citizens? Or have we have made our own comfort and convenience more important than love? Are we teaching our children that it is more important for them to do more, faster, and better in order to succeed, than it is to slow down and listen to themselves, hear their inner truth, and follow it?
I am not getting on a bus to protest because I am not willing to give the office of president and whoever is holding that office more power than my own decision to be a fully conscious citizen. President Obama, in his farewell address, said, “It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”