By Kit Miller
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Gandhi
I was moved in recent months to read about hate as a feeling, as an energy and as a force in the world. On June 16, I led a workshop on hatred and was grateful to be joined by eight others representing a variety of religious, cultural and political perspectives. In advance of the gathering, we read an excerpt from Dr. Howard Thurman’s book The Growing Edge. We discussed one paragraph as particularly relevant to the US today, given our changing global position and distressing political situation:
“Hatred becomes one of the sources of pride when all other sources of our pride have disappeared. It becomes a source of self-respect when no amount of projection can locate any other spot upon which self-respect may land and be nurtured and sustained. This is an important act in the drama of human life. What can we do about it?”
After exploring hate from a couple of religious and cultural perspectives, we broke into groups to look at it as a phenomenon in more detail. Lots of rich discussion ensued. Finally, we brainstormed ways to concretely reduce hate in our communities. The list is below.
If you are interested in hosting a similar event or would like to attend one at Gandhi, please let me know. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ideas for reducing hate:
-Love/embrace your community
-Create more deliberately multi-cultural events/festivals
-Offer spaces/opportunities for deep understanding of addiction
-Look for common ground during disagreements
-Lead by example
-Teach conflict resolution to young and all
-Be respectful when disagreeing
-Remember that everyone wants love and respect
-Get to know your own anger so it may be more useful
-Let go of ego and the need to be right
-Create more opportunities for people to gather /community spaces
-Move beyond rhetoric- encourage people
-Make sure there is reciprocity in any volunteerism or service
-Move beyond the polarities in any discussion
-Find people who see things differently and listen
-Stop shaming troubles so they are easier for people to share
by Kit Miller
No matter how bad you think your life is now remember there is always more to lose. Some person, some security, some aspect of mental or physical health.
A pet, a tree, the reliability of weather.
A book, your favorite mug, scarf or child.
A friendship you thought couldn’t go away, or a dream.
This isn’t cruelty but kindness, a nudge to do that very hard thing of living from present moment gratitude. Everything that matters to us will dissolve, leave, die or break.
Those were words I wrote yesterday while flying to San Francisco, sad to be missing the wedding of two special women at home. I landed to hear that fifty people had been killed in Orlando.
There is extra grief when people of oppressed backgrounds harm each other – this is a grievous burden for Latino communities, LBGT communities, and Muslim brothers and sisters to bear.
At a vigil last night for the shooting in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, LBGT speakers stressed the need not to let this occurrence excuse additional persecution of Muslim Americans. It was beautiful to witness one persecuted population standing in solidarity with another, even in the midst of shock and grief.
The first week of my summer internship with the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence has come and gone. During this period, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time tending to the garden and feel that it is appropriate to reflect on this space for my first blog; to begin to answer the question posed in the title. My own personal love of gardening stems from a benign, meditative boredom conducive to hours of uninterrupted thought; however, my appreciation for tending to a garden in the context of the Gandhi House has transcended the experience which initially drew me towards this activity.
Food production in the United States has become increasingly consolidated to large-scale, mechanized farms. According to the US Census, between 1945 and 2000 the number of Americans employed in agriculture fell from 16% to 2%. During this period total agricultural output has more than doubled; however, there is little to suggest that meaningful improvement has occurred: more than one-third of Americans are obese, as many as 27% of are coping with diabetes, and over 15 million children lack access to adequate nutrition. Furthermore, knowledge of farming practices, especially among urban communities, is becoming increasingly scarce.
Mahatma Gandhi saw a similar problem at work in the manufacture of cloth in India, writing “It is difficult to measure the harm that Manchester has done to us. It is due to Manchester that Indian handicraft has all but disappeared. But I make a mistake. How can Manchester be blamed? We wore Manchester cloth, and that is why Manchester wove it.” For this reason, he celebrated when the people of Bengal boycotted British cloth and returned to hand-making textiles on traditional looms.
Farming and weaving textiles are both time-consuming, unglamorous, and labor-intensive processes that offer little allure when compared with the seemingly convenient alternative of purchasing these necessities made elsewhere. Even for those interested in producing their own food and cloth, knowledge can be a barrier. This is why it is important that we at the Gandhi House garden. What we grow is free from problematic agroecosystems that depend on machines, chemical inputs, exploited labor, and dubious distribution networks. We draw on the help of volunteers and staff to practice traditions of growing that are ethical for people and the land. We believe that eating for sustenance is equally important to how we grow these things.
Yet there is more to gardening at the Gandhi House than cultivating sustainable produce; the garden serves as an educational space. It’s a place where the democratization of food production can take form. It educates community members on how they can be cognizant and active in their sustenance. It valorizes the production of something that’s easy to take for granted.
Every dollar spent is a vote and not everyone in the Rochester community has the awareness or ability to cast monetary ballots on conscious food. We garden to share the knowledge necessary to give the community agency. We garden because no one is too small to make a difference to a seemingly insurmountable problem.
Why garden? Well, there’s a few reasons….
For the first time, I’ve decided to do war tax resistance by withholding a percentage of the money I owe the Federal government. Below is the letter I wrote and sent to the IRS along with the taxes I did pay. More information about war tax resistance can be found on NWTRCC’s website. If you feel upset that our government spends billions of tax payer dollars on war each year, I hope you’ll research alternatives: you can resist by withholding a symbolic amount (even $1!), a percentage, or withhold all that you owe. You can also pay your taxes and send a letter voicing your dissent, if that is what works for you. There is not a wrong way to be a war tax resister. I hope my letter may inspire you to consider and explore this powerful and historic method of nonviolent resistance.
Dear friends at the IRS,
Concerning the Federal taxes I owe for 2015, I cannot in good conscience agree to pay this amount to my government which will use 45% of tax dollars to support current and past military expenses. As a conscientious objector to war, I do not support the violence of war, which includes the harm and killing of human beings and decimation of the earth and other living beings.
I am withholding 45% of what is due. I have redirected the money to the Peace Tax Escrow Fund, under the care of the Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. This fund will be released to the government as soon as the Peace Tax Fund bill (Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act of 2015, H.R. 2377, Congressman John Lewis) is approved.
I have come to know that all life is sacred, and I am heartbroken that our government continues to use violence as a strategy for safety and peace in this world. The violence of war appears to work in the short term. Yet it has high long-term costs on people, relationships, and the one planet we share. There are many methods of using nonviolence instead, even on the international level. Our failure is a lack of invested energy in the study and practice of nonviolence, not a lack in the capacity of nonviolence.
I am not opposed to paying taxes. However, I feel anguish to know that in 2015, $1,307 billion dollars were spent on war when there are so many needs in our communities.
What role does each of us have in perpetuation of war? My role has been silent compliance of paying my taxes. I am choosing to speak now: I will not consent to my money paying for the destruction of land or living beings. I cannot support the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. I have friends in these places; I do not need to know their names or faces to know they are friends. I know they are human beings with dreams, aspirations, and families. I know that while they may differ in religion and culture, these differences are not the cause of violence. Violence is not inevitable; it is a choice we make when we are desperate and do not know how to choose anything else.
I feel heaviness to know of the struggle of our veterans to return to civilian life after serving in the military. Addiction, PTSD, suicide, unemployment, and imprisonment are common realities. Our wars have destroyed the lives of many of our own citizens, of many of our own brothers and sisters.
I appeal to you, at the IRS, to remember the humanity of those abroad who our government is attacking and killing, to remember the humanity of our soldiers, to remember my humanity as a conscientious objector to paying for war, and to remember your own humanity. We can do better. It is time we ask our government to do better.
In solidarity for a peaceful world,
As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
There is more to life than increasing its speed. -Gandhi
“Were the people friendly?”
“Was the culture shocking?”
“How bad was the poverty?”
When friends and relatives inquired about my recent trip to India, their questions often placed me on a romanticized plot line common in white American culture: the challenging-yet-transformative adventure to an “exotic” destination. While I appreciated the curiosity and excitement behind people’s requests for details, I struggled to describe the beauty of my experience in a way that was both satisfying for them and authentic for me.
I went to Mumbai to visit one of my best friends from college, an international student from India who moved back to work as a French teacher after graduation. For four and a half years, she witnessed me lurch and fumble through the never-ending process of becoming myself. While she listened with care to my hopes, woes, and existential ramblings, she also wasn’t afraid to administer an emergency dose of Perspective when I needed it.
When I left to see her, I had been living in Rochester for a little over five months. I was settled, but no one around me was someone I had the privilege of knowing for years. Drifting in and out of sleep on my transatlantic flight, the internalized adventure narrative told me I was going somewhere new. By the time I was sitting on my best friend’s bed in her Mumbai apartment, I realized my trip was actually a return to the familiar.
When her father walked into the room, he greeted me with a hearty and definitive “Welcome home.” We took a rickshaw to Starbucks to talk about books and boys. Despite warnings about food poisoning, the digestion issues I struggle with in the U.S. actually improved on a diet of all Indian food.
This isn’t to say we didn’t do our share of exciting tourism activities. We visited Mani Bhavan, the house-turned-museum where Gandhi lived and organized during his Quit India campaign. We saw the Gateway of India and explored caves of ancient stone carvings on Elephanta Island. They were once-in-a-lifetime outings and I was lucky to have them. But the element that stuck out the most was not the newness of the country or culture. Rather, it was the startling ease I felt in an environment I hadn’t experienced before.
On one of my last days, we went to “International Night” at my friend’s school. Each grade was assigned a UN development goal. While a small army of feisty primary schoolers rattled off their perspectives on sustainable energy and climate change, I smiled at the way we are constantly, quietly, and often unwittingly tending to the future of others. I felt a surge of gratitude for the family, city, and culture that nurtured my friend long before she found her way into my life.
The true gift of my trip wasn’t the adventure. It was the opportunity to appreciate the people in my life who allow me to relax into their presence and feel at home wherever my feet are planted. Rather than gaining new relationships and perspectives, India allowed me to slowly and lovingly inventory everything I already had.
Two weeks ago, twenty-two community members from Monroe County traveled to join the men at Groveland Correctional Facility for a dialogue surrounding safety and prosperity. The dialogue occurred with roughly twelve men from Groveland, the majority of which are scheduled to be released to Monroe County within the next few months.
When reflecting on the few hours spent with the men at Groveland, numerous ideas, thoughts, and emotions were bouncing around in my head. The dialogue included several opportunities to speak in both small and large groups. The triads allowed for a more intimate setting, and also gave space for each person to share their views without monopolizing the conversation – their voices were heard, encouraged, and appreciated. Some of the men shared concerns about how Monroe County would respond to their release, opportunity to find jobs, and also if they would feel a sense of community. From community members, I heard mostly a loss of knowing how to help and to break the school-to-prison pipeline, and also a desire to support men returning to our community in a wholesome manner. And when I paused, when I could remind myself to take a breath and listen closely, I kept hearing the same two emotions beneath the myriad of messages: hope and fear.
What dissolves fear? What keeps hope alive? These emotions are two sides of the same coin. A significant factor in the success of our dialogue was continuing to connect with our humanity. The men at Groveland were appreciative of the voluntary nature in which the community showed up. The community group included one police officer and a few DOCCS members. To have these positions of power in attendance for this dialogue on a voluntary basis resonated with the entire dialogue group. As a community member, I was appreciative of the raw honesty in which the men shared about their personal lives, hopes and fears about their future. By creating a bridge of understanding where both parties were able to be honest about their fears, hopes, and worries, I am sanguine about our community growing closer and deeper through honest communication. It starts at the individual level, to personally share our experiences and interactions with the men at Groveland to debunk myths and redirect the conversation so often reported by the media. There is a lot of necessary work to push through in order to shift the paradigm around mass incarceration, but now I found a group of individuals who are also motivated in making that effort.
**My sincerest gratitude for the care and attention put into facilitating this dialogue, which was led by Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute and grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Shannon Richmond, a talented facilitator who also serves as our Associate Director.
**If you are interested in joining our next dialogue at Groveland, please contact Maria at Maria@gandhiinstitute.org so you can start the volunteer paperwork.
Ultimately, ‘history’ is, as many things are, a power struggle. A struggle over airtime and validation. Whether or not a particular narrative has basis in reality is irrelevant; the most profitable and seductive constructions of the past are meticulously chosen, culled into easily digestible pieces, and spoon fed to the masses. Sadly, and with cold-blooded intention from the upper echelons, most individuals constituting the masses are too preoccupied with surviving poverty, racism, wanton violence, and a web of other gauntlets to thoroughly regurgitate the venom we have all been nursed on.
The histories of people who were forced to act as a society’s soil often receive particularly vicious dismemberments. In the United States, Indigenous people and African-Americans have served as the nation’s soil; trampled upon, used as dumping grounds, riddled with venom and forced to sprout cane and cotton from blood-drenched land—these actions were an unjustifiably pyrrhic necessity for this nation’s fruition. Founded on the dual tragedies of enslavement and genocide; a historical examination of the United States containing a thimbleful of integrity must consider these realities unflinchingly—devoid of mock horror and sentimentality.
In this era, with our increasingly advanced and sophisticated communication technologies, access to knowledge discrediting popularly accepted narrations of history is more readily available than ever. Communities, organizations, and vast networks have been established to hasten the proliferation of revisionist histories.
Despite some people’s unwillingness to accept it, Black history is American history. While it is important to locate and differentiate the particular realities of Black people from those of others, this must be done in a manner which incorporates Black history into this land’s broader historical oeuvre. While never having been that syrupy ‘melting pot’ it is often assumed to be, making light of the cultural amalgamations that are the United States’ backbone would be, to speak with restraint, equally insensible.
Regarding Black History Month specifically, it has never shocked me that Black people in the United States have officially been given the shortest month of the year to celebrate our history. This fact, in tandem with narrations of Black history which expunge the long history of Black people’s painstakingly organized rebellions against remarkable injustices, have been the source of a private corrosive bitterness.
Seeing Black history characterized as little more than the accomplishments of a small smattering of charismatic, typically male, leaders from the Civil Rights era enrages me. As it currently stands, and has stood for centuries, an incautious parroting of celebrated articulations of the past are capable of rendering the contributions of legions, and geniuses, invisible. What of Fannie Lou Hamer? Dr. Dorothy Height? Bayard Rustin? Why are so many of our brilliant allowed to fade into oblivion?
As I grow out of my juvenile years, and mentality, however, bitterness and rage consume decreasing amounts of my interior wanderings; rather, these days, I am more enamored with creation, excavation of historical archives, and the dissemination of information. Honestly, spending my personal time perusing the vast archives of Black history, of Black artistic and cultural production especially, is exhilarating. The sheer depth and range of Black people’s participation in our nation’s every sphere is simply breathtaking; militaristic endeavors, affiliations with the Communist Party, communities of formerly enslaved people who fled bondage and erected homeplace in the wilds—the range of Black people’s involvement in every sphere of our society is nearly unfathomable.
If Black history were to be taken seriously by educational institutions and communities in the United States, the myth of Black inferiority would no longer have basis to exist. In my personal explorations of history, time and again, I continually find evidence of Black people’s ability to endure, and even, at times, blossom, in a society dependent upon our living in a state of ignorance and servitude—akin to lotus flowers blooming from basins of poisoned mud. Extraordinarily durable; yet dazzling.
In September of 2015 I started Working on this 8 week project that I titled “The Community Peace Dialogue” basically to get the community to discuss and come to a conclusion on what we can do to decrease the violence rate in our neighborhood. I went door to door from Plymouth & Bartlett to Plymouth & magnolia interviewing residents on exactly what there ideas were regarding there knowledge of the amount of safety around them. the purpose of me interviewing 20+ different people with the same questions was to have them meet at the Gandhi institute and discuss. on the day of my presentation many people felt like they didn’t trust that there appearance would make a change therefore they did not come at all. there differences and simulates was something that I personally was fascinated in sort of like a hunger for change so therefore I didn’t give up , I presented this project to the board of the Gandhi institute in November of 2015 . it turned out that the board and I just happened to be working on the same project at the same time. me and some of the board members decided to partner which we came Together as the C.E.P team (Community engagement project)which included Kristin Hooker, Barb van Kerkhove, Veronica Howard and Audrey Sample . for about 3 months we have been meeting and doing homework on conflict I really wanted to see what caused violence in the community from there perspective. I grew up here and I know from experience that fear causes violence and in many other situations retaliation. this 8 week project has grown to what is still in the process now i cant wait until the real final Conclusion !!! HOPE IT LOOKS LIKE THIS.
On May 29, 2015, Hoody, Kit, and I left Rochester for the Gandhi Legacy Tour: South Africa, a two week long excursion to learn about the twenty-one years Mohandas Gandhi spent in South Africa, and the legacy he left. As part of a larger traveling group, we were led across South Africa by Arun Gandhi, Mohandas’ fifth grandson, and Lynnea Bylund, director of the Gandhi Legacy Tours. Hoody, Kit, and I were able to take part in the journey as a result of the generosity of Arun, Lynnea, and so many others who gifted us with funds for the flight.
Below are twenty-one short reflections from those two weeks we spent abroad.. While it is nigh impossible to capture something as rich and fleeting as personal experience, this is an attempt to represent my experience in a series of interrelated fragments.
May my experience move you in some way.
- The days leading up to departure were rife with excitement and anxiety. Some mornings, I would waken in near certainty that my heart would stop. I’d never left the boundaries of the United States before, the farthest I had traveled was from one coast to the other. But this was different; this was two weeks in another country. Two weeks on the African continent. A two week sojourn in South Africa.
- As tempting as it is to refer to Africa as ‘the Motherland’, I will resist that temptation. Growing up in DC taught me enough about tensions within the African diaspora that, upon setting foot on the continent, I didn’t expected to be embraced by anyone of African descent with broad smiles and warm arms. Being Black simply isn’t enough to bridge the gaping chasms plaguing the diaspora
- Our plane from New York City to Dubai included an on-flight symphony of languages, dancing from one end of the plane to the other; English, Arabic, languages unidentifiable to my inexperienced ear, whirled from any given direction. Wives speaking in hushed tones to husbands and children, bright-eyed flight attendants offering bites of food and sips of water to fatigued passengers, defiant children babbling to themselves, and each other, to ward off the insipid curse of sleep.
- What if told you I’d fallen in love with another country? What if I told you I crave the warmth of another sun?
- We were in Johannesburg for two days before departing for Durban, the city with the largest Indian population of any city outside of India. Durban— Arun Gandhi’s hometown. Arun speaking to our traveling group, upon exiting Durban’s airport, his face shimmering with buoyant light, ‘Welcome home everybody’.
- Umhlanga. A resort town north of Durban leaning on the Indian Ocean. Throughout the trip, Hoody and I shared rooms. Our room in Durban came with view of the Indian Ocean beautiful enough to question its existence as real or hallucination— how the ocean blushed a deep cerulean; how the waves grasped for the shore so passionately; how the sun in motion transfigured the water into a vast blanket of fire, benign and smoldering.
- Astounding people were sculpted within the gauntlet of Apartheid-era South Africa; Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Steve Biko, just to name a few. However, have you heard of the man who co-founded the first educational institution opened by Black South Africans, John Dube? The first African and non-European/American to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, Albert Luthuli? Men who, in their own ways, worked against The Powers That Be to carve out their own legacies in history- do you know of them? If not, will you now seek that knowledge out?
- My 50mm lens perished at Mohandas Gandhi’s former South African home; I was attempting to capture scarlet flowers blooming on a tree branch. Suddenly, the motor that allows the lens to focus on subjects gave out. Instead of rotating around the circumference of the lens with a mechanical steadiness, the focus ring pitifully sputtered and refused to focus on the broad, silken petals. I didn’t want a blurry picture, I didn’t want some half-assed exposure and pass it off as ‘artsy’. I wanted those flowers in full glory.
- I pushed it. Pushed it beyond its limits. Eventually, the focus ring wouldn’t sputter. It wouldn’t make a sound. The focus ring wouldn’t move, wouldn’t do anything. My 50mm lens was— is, useless.
- Before my 50mm lens died, I took a photo of Arun standing in front of the room he had been birthed in. Of course, the room looks nothing like it did when Arun was an infant, or a teenager even. Arun’s old Durban home has been renovated into a museum dedicated to helping people understand the elder Gandhi’s path from middle-class lawyer to willingly impoverished justice seeker. The museum is extraordinary; brimming with easily missed influences and nuances of the man’s elaborate life.
- Eventually, I’d like to return to Durban to trail Ela Gandhi, Arun’s younger sister, with pen and pad in hand. I’d write down nearly anything she says, and archive her brilliance with the attentiveness required of such a task.
- In my first encounter with Ela, I lodged my foot into my mouth. Our traveling group ventured out to the Phoenix Community Centre to participate in her 75th birthday celebration. Ela met our group at the door. After giving her a hug, I exclaimed ‘Happy Birthday!’. After giving me a confused look, Ela said, with a startling balance of care and austerity, ‘Oh! My birthday is in two days dear.’. …Oops.
- There were mountains, trees, hills, expanses of lush vegetation for miles. Wind, shadow, and sun were in steadfast competition- which would gain mastery over the climate? Which would freeze, burn, or batter us into submission? We were in an open air vehicle, collectively failing to maintain a prolonged quiet. ‘The animals will not come if you are noisy’ our guide said.
- Luckily, our noisiness didn’t keep the wildlife away. In the expanse of brown and green before us were zebra loping across the grass; a herd of elephant, one of whom faced our vehicle and raised its trunk, perhaps as a greeting- more likely this was a gesture of warning. Gazelle! An abundance of females and a lone male with stunning facial markings. He approached the side of our vehicle and tilted his neck upward to peer inside, perplexed, perhaps, by the strange machine thundering across the terrain. The gazelle were very thin, seemingly frail, yet capable of surviving alongside leopards and lions.’They’re like French fries to the lions’, I wish our tour guide hadn’t said that…
- In South Africa, I am not Black. I’m considered ‘Colored’, a category which generally refers to people of mixed race heritage. But I’m neither Colored nor mixed. Both my parents are Black, both born in the United States.
- I tried explaining how race operates in the United States to two people in South Africa. Both people were Black. Both people were men. ‘…so, in the United States, you’re Black if you’re of African descent’. Both attempts at explanation resulted in my being laughed at, perhaps the mere thought of someone of my complexion being considered Black is cause for hysterics. ‘You’re not Black! You’re Colored!’, a very dark-skinned Ghanaian proclaimed after a scornful laughing fit.
- I decided to shift our conversation away from race, particularly, my racial identity.
- Are there etiquette manuals for people of color traveling abroad? I wholeheartedly wanted to feel connected to the people I met in solo ventures in a way that didn’t center my American-ness. I’m assuming that most people I met assumed I was an American with more privilege than I actually have. How would people have reacted if I had confessed, ‘No, I’m only here as a result of a serendipitous amalgam of luck, hard work, and generosity.’. Intuition tells me this confession may have been met with various levels of confusion and scorn.
- ‘Are you from Brooklyn!?’ ‘No, I’m from DC— Washington D.C! The capitol…’ ‘Oh! have you met Obama?’ ‘No…’
- There were so many beautiful, warm, welcoming people, especially in Sharpeville. Arun gave a workshop to a group of people in Sharpeville in the 90’s, and they have meticulously tended to those seeds Arun sowed. They now have a group of people dedicated to bolstering the Sharpeville community; the entrepreneurs, the bead-makers, the sculptor, the leather-worker, the theatre director who converted his garage into an acting stage and studio. They were all so dazzling—all so dedicated. I must to go back, eventually.
- Our traveling companions were wonderful as well! The laughs we shared, some awkward moments, nursing one another as we passed our ailments around. While in recovery from my own bout of illness, which resulted in me vomiting on the bathroom floor in Hoody and I’s Durban hotel room, I was resting constantly. On the bus, I sat beside Sheila, one of the older women taking part in the trip. After a long day of travel, I was unknowingly lulled into the balmy arms of sleep. I woke up on Sheila’s thin shoulder. Embarrassed, I began apologizing profusely. Sheila laughed it off and assured me it was fine. Later, on the tour’s final day, right before Hoody, Kit, and I set off for our departure flight, Sheila told me my sleeping on her shoulder was her favorite moment of the trip.
- And, here, I will end the reminiscing. So many details left untouched. So many stories, upon stories, to tell…
The other week I had the privilege of sitting across the table from author and collaborative facilitation consultant Miki Kashtan. Despite her revolutionary presence in the realm of collaborative decision-making, I hesitated when Kit invited me to join a few guests downstairs to discuss Miki’s work over coffee and burritos. I was interested in the unique opportunity, but did I really deserve to take a break and engage in the conversation? How many sent emails and updated website pages earned me the physical and intellectual nourishment of the luncheon? Remembering the handful of extra hours I had worked the week before, I calculated that I could afford to wander down and listen in on Miki’s collaboration advice.
I was soon immersed in a rich discussion of everything from the downfalls of compromise to the distant possibility of a post-privilege society. Miki made one comment in particular that nestled into my mind for the rest of the afternoon. “Many people talk about equal access to opportunity,” she remarked, “but few talk about equal access to resources.” In other words, even the most level of proverbial playing fields is still a space of competition. Given that most media and educational curricula contextualize far-left economics within the dystopian experiments of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR, the topic of equal resource distribution in mainstream America runs on a scale from utterly taboo to moderately contentious. But in the context of our highly competitive society, I realized that every time I had advocated for “equal access to opportunity,” I had really been saying, “all people should have a fair shot at winning what they need.” There was some part of me that wanted others to prove that they were worthy of resources necessary to thrive, instead of simply wanting the best for them as fellow human beings. I left the discussion acutely aware of my own deeply internalized “survival of the fittest” mentality. Why was it so radical to believe that all people equally and unequivocally deserve to have their needs met?
The political scientist in me had an answer regarding scarcity, but as I went about my day post-Miki, another line of reasoning began to surface in the quiet moments of mulling between tasks on my to-do list. I had long been aware of the pressure I put on myself to “earn” my space in the world. I was even pressuring myself to earn the right to have lunch and learn from Miki. Originally, I thought of it as a common but personal issue. However, if I didn’t truly believe that I was inherently worthy of having my own needs met, how could I advocate effectively for the needs of others? If I assumed I had to fight for the validation of my own humanity, why wouldn’t I drag others into the ring with me?
In my experience, one reason many people are afraid of dismantling the systems that bestow their privilege is that they view themselves in competition with others and fear that sharing their resource pool will threaten their stability. This anxiety indicates that people crave external, systemic recognition of their own competitive prowess because they have been socialized to believe that they wouldn’t be entitled to live in dignity otherwise.
But what if those in power understood their own humanity as truly inherent, instead of something to be won? What if they perceived their self-worth as stable and independent of the social and economic growing pains that will accompany the creation of a more just and sustainable society? I’m willing to bet that if more people were genuinely connected with their own intrinsic worthiness, they could more easily connect with the intrinsic worthiness of all. Such an understanding would move more people to create socially and economically equitable systems that honor the truth of universal human value.
It will probably take a lifetime for me to stop equating my productivity with my level of worthiness. But as a professor of mine used to say, “We’re human beings, not human doings.” While there is plenty to be done in the world, our very existence entitles us to our humanity (whether current power structures recognize it or not). If I spent less time criticizing myself for how I am earning my space in the world, I would have more energy to advocate for equitable systems that recognize inherent human dignity and worth and respond by supporting people to meet their needs. So I’m challenging myself to trust that no matter what I do or do not accomplish in a given day, I am a person with inherent value. And no matter how your day is going or how much you’ve accomplished, so are you.
- July 26, 2016 7:00 pmComing Back to Life: 6 Sessions on Social Change Work Without Burning Out
- July 29, 2016 7:30 pmSong of Peace: A Choral Celebration of Peace within our Community
- August 2, 2016 7:00 pmComing Back to Life: 6 Sessions on Social Change Work Without Burning Out
- August 4, 2016 7:00 pmComing Back to Life: 6 Sessions on Social Change Work Without Burning Out
- August 8, 2016 10:00 am2016 Summer Nonviolence Intensive