Finding Strength and Inspiration In The Life and Words of Leaders Worth Looking Up To

“I know that my country was not made to be a land of hatred.  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.”  -Nelson Mandela

Just days after my country honored the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who devoted himself to the abolishment of segregation and discrimination against people of color, we will be handing over the reign of power to a man who would prefer that we go back to those times when “America was great”; that is, when certain people were not regarded as human beings with inalienable rights, but as ‘things’ that could be dishonored and dispelled of.  That includes not only people of color, but anyone who is ‘different’ or unfavored; that is, not white, cisgender male, heterosexual, Christian, American, monetarily well off, and physically able.  Members of society have fought long and hard to force those with privilege to see the humanity in each and every person and therefore, to share what for them has never had to be earned but has merely been freely given.

It is a battle we are still fighting.  And now, with the new presidency, it seems we will have to contest even harder to ensure that the victories hard won by the likes of MLK, Jr. and countless others are not overthrown in the name of hate, fear, and ignorance.  But hear this: hate begets more hate; that is, hateful people do not respond to hate with love.  Hateful people, like the one elected to be Head of State, only respond to hate with more hate.  If those of us on the other side want our values of equal rights and respect to prevail, we must put those ideals into practice even when our adversaries decide to take a dump on them.

If we are to continue along the path of progress, we must ask ourselves: what can this presidency show us?  What can the government teach us about ourselves even when it doesn’t care to represent us or show compassion for its people?   How can we, mere citizens, become leaders of our own lives, our own families, our own communities?  If we cannot depose the regime, perhaps we can affect change on a micro level and thus be the change we wish to see in the world.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”  -Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes people we don’t agree with can be like a mirror put in front of our faces, forcing us to see what we don’t like about ourselves.  How can we use that reflection to become a stronger, more consolidated nation?  How will we grow to become better having been put through the worst?  Will human kind ever evolve to see only the spirit that unifies us all, making us one; not the skin, or the body parts, or the body type, or the clothes, or the sexual preferences, or the beliefs, or the language, or the money, or the abilities that serve only to make us seem not of the same?

Nelson Mandela began his leadership on a very different path.  Initially, he thought the only way to vanquish the tyranny over his people was to conquer violence with violence.  But after 27 years in prison, Mandela came to the notion that the weapon needed to end the war against South Africans was forgiveness.  And sure enough, a peaceful resolution was finally brought about.  Similarly, as Americans, if we are to win the fight against racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, social injustice and discrimination of any kind, we –the people– cannot use the same ammunition employed by the new majority of leaders of this great country.    We must err instead on the side of love, peace, and hope.

At the same time, we must also be courageous and vigorous in the face of bigotry.  We must make our voices heard.  We must stand united against those who try mercilessly to divide us.   We must march in the name of what is right and just.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Man or Woman, how do you measure?  Black, Brown, or White, how do you measure?  Straight, Gay, or anything in between, how do you measure?  Rich, Poor, Young, Old, Able, Disabled, Native, or Immigrant…. how do you measure?  We cannot allow ourselves to become or remain complacent.  The time to act is now.  The place to start… is in your heart.

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Moment of Truth

Sometimes I wish I could label myself with whatever mood I happen to be in on any given day or in any given moment, so that everyone can see. That way, I don’t have to pretend to be what I’m not. If I’m feeling crummy and I don’t want to deal with people, I don’t want to feign enthusiasm or be fake happy. Because sometimes, well, I’m not. Sometimes I’m irritated with life and exhausted from life and feeling scared and anxious and confused about life. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m really, really angry. And I just want to give up because I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of explaining why sometimes I go off the deep end; why there are moments when I just totally shut down.

And I’m alone. I’m always alone, inside. I mean, obviously, but it’s the kind of alone that you feel when you’re with someone and without them; it just doesn’t go away. And I don’t know how to fix that.

I love with my whole heart, I know that. I strive to be genuine in all that I say and do. I’m loyal and dependable. And sometimes, I’m a bitch. Anyone who tries living with me could tell you that. My kids could certainly tell you that. Because, hands down, parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and doing it alone just makes it all the more difficult. It tends to, you know, bring out the bitch in me. Lack of sleep, lack of sex, I don’t know. But at times, yeah, it gets me down. Too much to do for so many people. It probably doesn’t help that I manage people’s lives for a living. I am constantly juggling the needs and interests of others. Sometimes I want to put the balls down, but then I remember…

My children are the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t be more proud to be their mother. They’ve been there for me as much as I’ve been there for them, always pulling me through the toughest of times; always forgiving me for all the ways that I fail them. Every day I wake up I get the chance to start anew. I get another chance to choose love over fear and anger. *breathe* I get the chance to tell them nicely for the 10th time to please do this or please do that…

…Not likely!! I am giving myself a break on that one. 🙂

Intentions: Bringing Us One Step Closer Or Taking Us One Step Back

Good intentions don’t always yield the results we had hoped for. I found myself spouting this tidbit to a fellow comrade this morning, realizing the relevance it has had in my own life lately.

Rejection tends to leave one feeling broken, weak, and powerless. Instinctually, out of the pain and betrayal I feel, I want to hide behind my fear and anger. And I have done this. But once the dust has settled, once the storm is passed and I am back in touch with the deeper meaning of my life, I choose instead to express love, kindness, forgiveness. Because I believe those are the only things that last; certainly, they triumph over every misguided or ill intention I may have at one time harbored. And unquestionably they are what give my life meaning. I could choose to remain bitter, I could choose to disown those I feel betrayed by, to cast them out of my life like a thorn in my side. But all that does is increase the likelihood of eventually stepping on said thorn, creating more agony and turmoil for me down the road.

Ignoring someone who has hurt us isn’t facing our fears; it’s running away from them, especially when that person is trying only to show us the healing power of love and forgiveness. When we run from fear we run in circles, ending up always right where we started. Progression, growth, these things imply a linear movement forward or upward. They are also impossibilities unless we relinquish our fears and reach towards the light that is the extension of someone’s merciful hand.

Some motivations to express kindness are self-serving. Behind these acts there is a desire to get what we want, to feel better about ourselves, to feel less rejected. I’ve been rejected in love plenty. I now have what you would call a thick skin. You could set me on fire and I’d probably not bat an eye. And yet, to those who I have been hurt by and regardless of whether the same generosity is rendered to me, in the end I will always choose to extend graciousness and benevolence, not with my ego, but with my heart where the purest of intentions coexist often with the deepest well of sorrow and discontent.  And in this way, I’d like to think I am destined for growth and for true love.

Rules For Entering: A Mother’s Reflection On Matters Of The Heart

This morning before leaving for work I was struck by the sign on my 8-year old son’s bedroom door.  It was a list of “rules” for entering which you can see here:

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I thought it was a fine list of rules; he doesn’t seem to request anything of his bedroom guests that is too unreasonable.  Asking permission to enter, being kind, respecting his personal space, as well as his feelings and the times when he just needs to be alone… all good things.  What I was most intrigued by was the warning he attached below them: if you break the rules, you’re out.  No wavering, no mending, no talking about the problem. It’s a very move-along-and-don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya-on-the-way-out sort of mentality; Nihilist, even, black-and-white.  Fear ridden.  Destructive rather than constructive.

So while I was standing there reading the sign and having these thoughts I wondered, is that what my son has learned?  He’s seen me go through three relationships with men I invited into our home and our family yet who are no longer around, outside of his own father.  The other two just… disappeared.  Why?  Because they broke the rules, I guess.  And what were my rules?  Well, very similar to junior’s, actually:

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Seriously.  I asked for a donut.  Where the fuck is it?!  Right???  I think we all feel that way sometimes, or at least I have.  I just find it very interesting to see that feeling reflected here in my son’s rules for entering his room, his world, his life.  Poignant, symbolic, yes?  What I don’t know is how much of that is learned and how much of it is a natural part of being human and wanting to feel safe and cared for.  I guess if anyone regardless of their current situation or circumstances growing up can say that they would ask the same of anyone entering their haven, then we can all agree that these rules belong on every door to every heart.

Unfortunately, written within those rules there is nothing to be said of loving for the sake of loving; giving when you don’t want to give; learning what that feels like in the end.  Even though it’s challenging, there is no implication in such demands that believing the pain of loving without guarantee or restitution is worth it; there is no resolve to lead with love despite the fear of getting burned.

What do we do not only for the other person, but for ourselves when we allow someone in even when they’ve hurt us… upset us… didn’t deliver what we asked for?  I’m 34-years old and I’m still figuring this out; I suppose I can’t expect my 2nd grader to really grasp it yet.  But as his mother, his teacher, his guide, I see it as my job and my privilege to show him the power of love, forgiveness, and working through differences, even when someone we trusted enough to welcome into our lives has hurt us, gone against the rules.  We would all want someone to show up at our door bearing donuts, chocolate, and ice cream.  It’s just that, not all days are like that.  Some days it’s a pile of smelly trash, baggage you don’t care to deal with, and horse shit.