“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” –Maya Angelou
Sometime around 3 a.m. this morning, while witnessing the stunningly improbable, equally impressive, election victory of Donald Trump as president elect of the United States of America, I thought of an old favorite fable, The Scorpion & The Bird.
As the tale tells, a scorpion and a bird sat on the side of a river. The scorpion wanted to cross the river, but being a terrible swimmer, he decided to ask the bird to carry him across the river on its back to the other side.
To which the bird responded, “Why would I do that? You’re a scorpion and you will sting me, then I will fall into the river and drown.”
The scorpion scoffs at the bird’s response. “If you fall into the river and drown, then I will fall and drown too. Where’s the logic in that?”
“I suppose you’re right,” reasons the bird. “Okay, I will carry you across the river. Jump on my back!”
The scorpion jumps on the back of the bird and the bird takes flight.
Halfway across the river the scorpion stings the bird. The bird becomes dazed and falls toward the water.
“Why did you sting me?” cries the bird, turning his head to look at the scorpion.
“You knew what I was before you let me on you back,” responds the scorpion. “It’s my nature and character, I cannot help what I do.”
The moral of the story is simple – there are certain things in life, be they animals, situations, people, nations, etc., that simply are what they are. Regardless of logic, their innate nature will ultimately rise to reveal a true character, even when that character may be dangerous, devolving, or detrimental toward self.
In 2016, the fact that America has democratically (by electoral college standards, not the popular vote) chosen to elect a misogynistic, bigoted bully to its highest office of leadership, is a clear result of whitelash against its changing racial, ethnic, and religious demographic.
Should that be surprising? Not really. The outcome of this election is simply an expression of America’s true core nature, which it is struggling to hang onto. The underlying message should resound loud and clear to all those who thought she was anything different.
Why would anyone be surprised? Disappointed? Perhaps. But not surprised. I’m pretty sure the founding fathers of the nation would be proud the nation they envisioned will remain true to its nature for just a little while longer.
For just a little while longer, because equally as loud and clear is the message that greater efforts, works, and successes, must be accomplished in evolving America toward becoming a more equal, just, and prosperous place for all. Eventually every pendulum swings – it’s just a matter of when, how far, and how fast.
I’ve been a resident of the United States for more than two decades now, but retain Canadian citizenship. This morning, for the first time in a long time, I looked at my Canadian passport, and for a moment it felt like a golden ticket. Then I quietly placed the passport back in its safety spot with a smile.
I’m going nowhere fast, except out the door to continue my everyday work and mission to help better my community, teach wellness and self-empowerment, and help others grow mindsets and ideologies that, with the help of Creator, may help them become more self-sufficient and able to pay that learned knowledge and sense of self-empowerment forward.
Fear of a Trump presidency is the furthest thing from my mind. Rather than feeling scared, or scarred, I feel motivated to work harder toward creating an American ideal that all Americans, and the rest of the world, may truly be proud of. We’ve witnessed America’s oppressed, underestimated, and downtrodden surviving much worse and become stronger, more resilient, and more resourceful for the process.
Every individual on the opposite side of this turn in history, myself included, should feel driven to accomplish more, organize greater, grow stronger, and continue major efforts to turn the tide of old America into a greater, better, more inclusive and visionary ideal for a growing majority population.
Just as the innate nature of America is currently clutching to hold onto the old-minded tenants of its founding character, the process of evolution is inevitable. Eventually the pendulum will swing to the point where returning to its original nature will become impossible. What that may truly look like, what it will take to accomplish, and how it will be accomplished, no one can truly know. Most likely it will be a messy, ugly, and hard fought path.
So, despite today’s disappointment, disbelief, or anger, or on the other side of the equation, elation and celebration, when the smoke clears from this election our minds must also be clear. At the end of the day, each and every one is responsible for determining his or her own destiny in life. Hopefully part of that destiny involves making the world a better place. That is a winning mindset to pursue.
There is power in vision & vision in power; together they have ability to impart massive social change for the better while allowing personal joy to exist.
Choose to make clear your vision, and work daily to claim your power, regardless who America’s next president may be. Don’t be scared. Be powerful.
Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,
“You cannot fix what you will not face.” –James Baldwin
A few weeks ago my 5-year old son wanted to have a party. Just a few friends over, play some games, run around the house, do what 5-year-olds do. No problem. Friends and fellowship are always welcome. But first he was instructed to clean his room.
After the usual hemming and hawing he conceded, trudging downstairs toward his room. Get your work done first, then reward. That’s been our household code of conduct since day one. Twenty minutes later he comes bounding upstairs, beaming a smile as wide as the wing tips of the toy airplane held in his hands.
“I’m done!” he exclaimed, “Room’s all clean!”
A short time later I’m down in his room checking out his work. At first glance the room appears spotless. Nothing on the floor. Bed made. Everything looking orderly and neat. Then I open the closet door and a cavalcade of clothes, toys, papers, and miscellaneous-items-from-who-knows-where come crashing to the floor.
Of course, he didn’t really clean his room. He simply moved the clutter and unsightly mess into the closet, closed the door, and hoped for the best.
Too often I observe a similar “Band-Aid” approach when dealing with injuries and pain in my private healthcare practice. A patient presents with a painful neck or back, but instead of wanting to address the source of their pain they prefer to consume a steady stream of pain killers to “feel better and heal”.
They appear surprised when I inform them the drugs aren’t doing a thing to help heal them, but are simply blocking the pain signals from traveling from the source of the pain through their nervous system to their brain.
“The painful problem is still there,” I express. “You just can’t feel it.”
The drugs are masking the pain. Temporarily hiding the pain. Acting like a Band-Aid over a cut. The cut is still there, it is simply being hidden from view by the Band-Aid.
Rule #1 in fixing a problem: Get to the root of the problem and address the cause, or guaranteed the problem will return.
This “treat-the-symptoms” approach seems inherent to much of humanity, and perhaps more importantly, expected by most of society. At all levels. Even with regards to a subject as ingrained and important as race-relations in America.
Out-of-sight-out-of-mind seems the preferred approach of many people when confronted with the nation’s dilemma of racial discord. Whether based in fear, pre-conceived bias, ignorance, or perhaps just plain laziness, a worrisome portion of the population exhibits no desire to address originating sources or roots of racial divide in the spirit of building toward a better, more genuine and harmonious future.
A few days ago, along with approximately 80 million other viewers, I watched the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Following the debate the online world was abuzz with people feeling a need to share their most memorable takeaways from the opinionated clash.
My heart-stake takeaway moment occurred around the topic of race-relations, when the moderator asked the candidates what they would or could do to help heal the race divide in America.
Donald Trump’s eager reply was, at least in my mind, the same sort of culturally blind, race-privileged, pro-slavery view we might expect to hear in the confederate south prior to the abolition of slavery in 1865.
Moderator to Donald Trump: “What would you do to help HEAL the racial divide?”
Donald Trump: “Two words….LAW & ORDER.”
His answer appealed perfectly to his base of supporters, nourishing their fears of change and avoidance of difference, speaking nothing of the causes or sources of racial division, offering no constructive input that may help heal and deal with such divisions from the inside-out.
Instead, his answer was a super-adhesive Band-Aid solution of law and order. An attempt to make the problem appear calm, clean, perfect, and non-existent. Or, much like my 5-year-old, throw everything in the closet, close the door, and hope for the best.
Definitely not the unifying visionary leadership we may hope for from a leading presidential candidate. Rather the same forceful rhetoric of superficial solution that has been voiced for a couple of centuries. This at a time when America’s racial divide and discord exists as great, if not greater, than it ever has in the nation’s 240 year history. In a sense, a fitting testament to the snail-like evolution of racial cohesion that continues to exist in various segments of the country.
“Society constantly expends its efforts to correct effects instead of causes, which is one reason why the development of human consciousness proceeds so slowly.” –Dr. David Hawkins, Power vs. Force
Without question, Mr. Trump’s statement of law and order was a reference to the recent rash of clashes and civil disobedience protests held in major cities around the nation. Protests staged by significant numbers of citizens and groups in response to highly publicized and unjust police shootings and killings of people of color.
To be clear, unfair police violence toward people and communities of color is nothing new. The only thing new has been the smartphone technology allowing these acts to be captured and shared, literally in real time, with millions of people around the world. What used to occur regularly in the dark has now been brought to the light of the world, rightfully triggering the outrage and reaction it so justly deserves.
Newsflash to Mr. Trump and his band of merry supporters who seem to be constantly asking the question, “Why can’t things stay the same, like they were many years ago, and make America great again?” Life moves forward, karma exists, and nothing stays the same forever.
In a constantly-evolving reality you either grow, adapt, and innovate…or find yourself left behind. You would think that Donald Trump, as the amazingly successful (extremely questionable?) business tycoon he claims to be, would realize the importance adaptive evolution in the healing, health, and progress of an evolving nation. A nation he wishes to make great again.
Donald Trump’s greatest political strength has been his ability to perceive, concentrate, and voice the fears of his narrow-minded base, swirling and expanding those fears like a master charlatan, and channeling the energy of those fears in a hate-mongering way toward groups such as people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and more.
One of my favorite post-debate comments regarding the majority of Trump supporter’s dominating views toward people of color as one of America’s greatest problems came from a cousin in Ohio, a proverbial battleground state where racial divisions are great. I share the following spiel, which she wrote on her social media timeline, with permission:
“All people of color don’t live in the inner-city. All people of color are not poor. The great majority of people of color are law abiding. All people of call don’t idolize church leaders. People of color don’t hate cops – we don’t like the bad ones and want them held accountable to the laws. We are tired of the stereotypes and labeling which leads to profiling. Simply stated, most people of color simply want to be left the hell alone, want disparities to close, and want the same equal treatment and privilege as everyone else. Make that happen and America won’t be great again, it will be great for once.” -Monica Bowles
Make that happen and America won’t be great again, it will be great for once.
What a brilliant, human, and real statement. So authentic and personal, from a hard-working woman of color sharing a humanly universal desire to be treated fairly, without bias, and on a same-level playing field in a nation still ripe with opportunity to allow its growing population to achieve the greatest freedoms and successes the mind can imagine.
It’s a statement that could easily be directed specifically toward the ideology desiring to place people of color in a box and hide that box someplace distant. An ideology that would prefer to engage iron-handed law and order to maintain a pseudo-peaceful status-quo, silencing voices that are being treated unfairly and inequitably, wishing the difficult race conversation would simply go away.
No one, including myself, believes that bridging difficult racial divides on a mass scale will ever be easy. There is no one-size-fits-all answer or solution to the questions of healing existing disparities, inequities, unfair treatment, and brutalities woven as deeply into the nation’s creative fabric as the higher hope-filled ideal America yet has the potential to become.
Still, difficult questions must be addressed at their root, and truthful answers attempted in response to the question, “What would you do to help heal the nation’s racial divide?”
Necessarily, there will be individual answers and answers of the collective. Like science, there is a very real possibility that more answers will lead to more and more questions. Each of which will have to be addressed layer-by-layer, much like the unpeeling of an onion.
Eventually, perhaps, these micro-undertakings will reach a critical mass, causing an unprecedented shift in the conversation which will truly address legitimate root causes of America’s racial divide. There is great work to be done, on both sides of the equation.
But first, the existence and ongoing reality of America’s detrimental culture of fear must be realized and understood. America’s culture of fear, so easily exploited by a rabble-rouser such as Donald Trump, is paramount in people’s avoidance of difficult race conversations and ongoing behaviors associated with prejudice and partisan pride.
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. –H. P. Lovecraft
Fear is at the root of many human shortcomings and behaviors, including how we often perceive and interact with other human beings. While familiarity fosters comfort, that which is unfamiliar, unfortunately, too often triggers unnecessary caution and fear. Unnecessary fear too often prevents constructive communication, interaction, and keeps groups of people bound in senseless bubbles of pseudo self-preservation.
Of course, fear exists for a reason, and at times serves a purpose necessary for survival. Like when we may be approached by a hungry bear while walking alone in the woods. In terms of civilized human interactions, however, fear too often acts in a detrimental manner, erecting walls and barriers to meaningful exchanges and collaborations that could allow us to realize how much we have in common, and that our similarities far outweigh our differences.
Part 2 of this series, Transforming a Fearful Nation: Real World Expressions of Power vs. Force, will focus on the concept of fear. How to recognize unnecessary fear. How to overcome fear. How to move past fear into the realm of courage, where amazing results may exist and occur.
But for now, as a reminder lesson from Part 1, remember Rule #1 in fixing a problem: Strive to get to the root of the problem and address the cause, or guaranteed the problem will return.
As always, thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,
*portions of this piece were first published in the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s “The Village” Blog on December 15, 2014
“We have no need for your sympathy. We welcome your empathy. We require neither to grow into the highest versions of human being Creator would intend us to become.”
This morning I was burdened by a disheartening and uncharacteristic thought regarding my 5-year old son. Anybody who knows me knows he’s my life, pride, and joy. It was fleeting thought, passing almost as quickly as it occurred, but it occurred, and the fact it occurred speaks vulgarly of the cause.
In the wake of two more fatal police shootings over the past two days of Black men in the United States, one of which occurred in our hometown of Minneapolis / St. Paul, I had a natural desire to keep my son close. Upon waking this morning I decided to keep him home from daycare to spend the day together.
Then the enigmatic, fleeting thought occurred, “I wonder if he’d be safer spending the day at daycare, or with his mother or female cousin, instead of spending the day with me, a black man in America?”
What kind of B.S. is that? What kind of psychological imprint must exist for such a thought to originate in the mind of a father? Chillingly, I realized if this thought could occur in my mind, as blessed, grounded, and optimistic as I am, what of countless others who may be less fortunate? The mental anguish being experienced by Black people in this nation hurts my existence to the very core.
I am an optimist by nature, the blessed second son of a father who was humbly raised in a small African Canadian town near the border of Detroit, Michigan. My father never knew his father, yet he strived, matured, and developed to become the kind of man every fatherless child looks up to as a strong male role-model and father figure.
My wife and I are in our forties, now raising a Black Son in the United States…and the optimism is waning. We live relatively well. I practice my passion as a natural healthcare provider, we are business owners, giving and striving to be the best examples of success we can in an urban setting of a major US city.
From the outside looking in life is good, with a beautiful family, comfortable home, and solid social ties, but from the inside looking out, as a community-vested Black Man in the United States, life is an everyday battle pitting individual and group self-worth against a society repeatedly showing disdain, disrespect, and ultimately contempt for the lives of young black men.
The air of racial tension in the United States is burdensome; a heavy and ever-extant cross to bear that is present in every waking facet of life. As a Canadian growing up near a border city, I used to marvel at the change in racial climate and energy the moment we crossed the border. Not to say racism and prejudice do not exist in Canada, they do, but in the United States these negative elements are super-charged and ever-present, like a destructive cancer on steroids spreading to every vital element of an aging and illness-infested body.
Today the disturbing image of Philando Castile, the innocent young Black man shot four times and killed by a policeman in a nearby suburb of the Twin Cities during a questionable traffic stop, slumped in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, dark red blood covering the front of his white t-shirt while his girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, is vivid on my mind. I hear the innocently compassionate voice of their 4-year old daughter, who was in the backseat of the car at the time of the shooting, trying to comfort her mother shortly afterwards while they sit in the back seat of a police car before being taken into custody and separated.
My son unintentionally glimpsed the graphic, bloody image of Philando Castile being shown on CNN as the story played heavily on the 24/7 news networks. He asked me about it. Hesitantly, I tried to play it off, saying it was TV, like as a movie, or make-belief, but I know he knows the truth. Kids are smarter, more comprehending at a younger age, than we give them credit for. There have been other similar race-related incidences close to home, like Jamar Clark, who was killed less than a mile from our house. Intuitively my son has picked up on race-themed crisis-conversations taking place.
“Daddy, only if people are brown, the police shoot them, right?”
A question asked yesterday evening by my son. He has yet to attend his first day of Kindergarten. To those who would minimize, or outright dismiss, the notion that a problem even exists, or acknowledge that a problem exists but feel it’s all a self-inflicted exercise in self-pity and woe, here’s a question. How would it feel to have to answer such a question to your 5-year old child? How would it feel to second guess spending a day in public with your child for fear your very presence may put their safety in jeopardy? How insane is it, really, to even contemplate such questions?
To dispute there is a problem that a disproportionate number of Black people are unjustly killed at the hands of police year after year in the United States is a willful refusal of reality. In words of the iconic American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”
All these killings are evidence against perhaps the most famous sound bite from Martin Luther King Jr’s most famous speech, in which he proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Created equal? Definitely. Valued and treated equally? Not a chance. The only self-evident truth regarding the treatment of Black people in America, especially young Black men, is their lives are not regarded equal. Unequally, all we hear is a broken record of recurrent themes and happenings in a nation warped and wrapped around indoctrinated prejudicial traditions, beliefs, and policies at its core.
Enter the dialogue of sympathy, empathy, and race in America. A look at the reactionary protests sparked by the most recent round of police killings and we see the disenfranchised, suffering, and moral minority striving to find effective voices and means to express frustrations, hurt, and anger. Black Lives Matter. Respect. A look at the social-media reactions of the rest of America, even well-intended individuals of other races joining with the protesters, and we see a plethora of pity posts or inflammatory rants, sympathy gestures, pure hatred, disdain, but very little empathy or true desire for change.
The difference between sympathy and empathy is major. Both are acts of feeling, but only one constitutes a true act of compassion that may potentially lead to authentic change. Sympathy is an act of feeling sorry for another individual or group without the ability to truly understand what they’re feeling. Conversely, empathy is a shared feeling – the ability to mentally and emotionally place oneself in another person’s shoes, to have an accurate sense of what they are experiencing and feeling.
Empathy requires mental work and imagination, or a similar life experience, to attain. Sympathy requires lip service and a brief acknowledgment, but no real feeling. Empathy is active, while sympathy is passive. By its very nature the word “active” implies movement; the word “passive” implies stillness. Movement is necessary for change, and change is necessary for progression.
As a nation, the United States needs to embrace the ideals of empathy, not sympathy, if its ever going to turn the corner on race relations. If a corner needs turning before a rumbling freight train falls off a cliff, then the crucial corner must be turned. In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” In 2016, one hundred and thirteen years later, it appears the problem of the 21st century remains the problem of the color-line.
How’s your level of optimism regarding race-relations doing today? That’s a question for people on both sides of the equation. Are we willing to come face-to-face with past or present privilege and disenfranchisement, and what can be done to bring a fairer chance of equity and equality across the board? Are we willing to have difficult conversations, and engage in self-empowering actions to shift from victim to victor mentality? Or do we even possess the desire or capacity to care?
Perhaps the greatest beauty of an idea is its indestructibility. Ideas exist forever. Combine that existence with the notion that nothing can stop an idea who’s time has come, an now is the time to move America beyond the deeply entrenched racial and prejudicial doctrines binding its blessings. There is incredible strength in collective mindset and motion, and that power can be used for good or evil. A collective vision of cohesiveness, communication, and unity has the power to loosen constraints and bring a torn nation together, moving us together toward a better common goal.
What good is a rant about problems without suggestion of solutions? We all have valid ideas, from simple to complex, which may help heal our lives, communities, and nation. What are some ideas and actions that might help this country to move in a direction more akin to the language, yet beyond the bleached vision and version, the forefathers envisioned? Like many others, I have a few opinions. Here are three of my opinions regarding race in America that quickly come to mind:
1) At the highest level, there is a spiritual solution to every problem, including America’s race problem. Not a religious solution, but a spiritual solution. There is a big difference. By a spiritual solution I’m not suggesting the grace of a Higher Power to intervene. Rather, as individuals and a nation we must tap into the spiritual core that exists within each and every one, at our highest level of being, and allow that source to guide our actions daily.
2) There is no need to pretend everyone will or must always get along, but we can and must cordially co-exist on many different levels. Some individuals may intermingle races, cultures, social and economic stratospheres, while others may never evolve to this level of being. Some will choose to stay secluded and limited in closed-minded places, for whatever reason. That’s reality. That’s fine. However, within this model, we must prevent privilege, power, and authority from monopolizing opportunities of fairness, equity, and equality against the disenfranchised, poor, and oppressed. The pursuit of an equal playing field is a fight worth fighting. It is the essence of the American ideal of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
3) An unprecedented shift in mindset is necessary on both sides of the race equation for meaningful progress to be made. For some, this mindset-shift will require the recognizing and acknowledgment of privilege, past and present, and asking what can be done to help reconcile unfairly gained privilege. For others, this mindset-shift will require the implementation of self-empowerment goals through means of self-responsibility, once again illuminating the victim-to-victor pathway and journey.
“A people taking charge of their situation, striving for self-improvement through self-change, will necessarily become a successful and respected people.”
At 240 years old, the United States of America is still a relatively young nation. A young nation exhibiting the learned behaviors and growing pains of a bad, spoiled, and selfish childhood. The race, class, and privilege conflicts ingrained and currently on display in this country are, as Malcolm X said in 1963, products of the chickens coming home to roost. It’s a karmic law – we reap what we sow. None may know the time, place, or how, but good will be rewarded with good, and the opposite will infinitely reign true.
Children require time, and some very trying and difficult times, to grow, mature, develop, and evolve. Hopefully the evolution is for the better. A person who views the world the same at 75 years old as they did at 25 has wasted a half century of their lives. Consider from where we’ve come. See the direction we are going. Envision a best case scenario where we may end up. It is my hope and prayer the United States of America may evolve into a much better and greater place.
For the record, my son and I enjoyed an excellent day together. For him, I will always be an example of strength, communication, love, and compassion, regardless what the world may label me. For him, I remain “Super Dad!”
Together we send thoughts and prayers of comfort and strength to all those going through anxious times during these difficult days. Stay the course. Continue to fight good and righteous fights in a positive way, and know every effort, down to the smallest effort, is not in vain. In the simple and prolific words of an old friend, “We’re all in this together.”
Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,