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.

There’s a War In My Heart and It’s Driving Me Insane, But At Least It’s Intact and So Are My Brains

The past two days have been trying on my equilibrium, more than usual anyway compared to my lately. Every now and then I start to feel really down about myself and the pains of being alone are a little sharper and more difficult to ignore. These past two days have been like that. It may have something to do with running into my ex. It may also have something to do with a lot of things, some of which I can name and some I cannot. So I bought a pack of cigarettes. I haven’t bought a pack of cigarettes in about 10 months, when my ex and I broke up, and they lasted me a really fucking long time. Probably because I don’t much care for them after a while. It’s more the act of smoking I enjoy; holding something in, then letting it go, while watching something transcend into a nothing right before my eyes. It’s like my very own magic trick, but done by millions and killing thousands (that’s a guesstimate). At any rate, I bring up the cigarettes because I assure you it is indicative of how I was feeling when I made the purchase. Pretty damn lousy.

So I arrive after dropping my kids off with their dad–it is Father’s Day afterall–cry for a spell at the empty nest I’ve come home to, I open up the fresh pack of cigarettes I just bought for eight whole dollars($8!!), crack open a beer and smoke the remains of my bowl. Again, signs that I’m feeling pretty shitty. And then I crank up the tunes. I’m on youtube now, searching for a few go-to songs that I like to listen to when I’m having a hard time managing the meaninglessness of life. A Perfect Circle’s Noose is one of them. But I had never, until this point, seen one particular video that someone mastered with images of GW Bush and some unbelievable clips and images of the most shocking atrocities I could never conceive of. I started out watching the video feeling sorry for myself. I ended up realizing how fucking stupid and self-centered I was being. Watch the video and you’ll see for yourself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHdRy-iivcg). You’ll see the senseless devastation and heartless politicians who are to blame.

There really aren’t words for what has happened, real life things that have happened on land far away from the part I tread on. It’s no wonder soldiers who come back from war are never the same. It’s no wonder Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs so naturally among them. I hate that such calamity can lead to a boost in my spirits. And it’s not to say that I wasn’t incredibly disturbed and sobbing at the horror of it all as I sat and watched that video. But… it woke me up a bit, too. It made me realize how much worse things could be. They could be a LOT worse. My family hasn’t been blown to bits or had their faces burned off. My child isn’t laying on a gurney with their brains being stitched back into their head or their flesh entirely missing from parts of their body. I’m not holding them dead in my arms. My kids are alive and well. And so am I (although adding to my chances of cancer this very moment). I have so much to be thankful for, despite the loneliness and emptiness I try not to think about.

I may not know what the hell life is for. And this unknowing may start to get me down time and again. But I do know that life is not about blowing people up and gunning people down; it’s not about exchanging dog tags for price tags. It’s about finding those rare moments when you’re able to accept rather than resist everyone’s right to be human.