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18 January 2016 @ 06:45 pm
An MLK Day Reflection: Doing What's Difficult  


If we are going to thrive as a diverse society, and in the U.S. we are already succeeding beyond the level of most other attempts on this Earth, we must as individuals and communities expect more of ourselves.

Our authentic, deep, and active compassion for one another will not be easy. Even those of us who consider ourselves enlightened will have to accept, will have to truly tolerate with welcome and without contempt, both the what and the who that make us uncomfortable. We will have to seek out, take in, and deeply understand those whose opinions and behaviors fill us with discomfort and even revulsion, drawing the line only at those who do physical harm or perpetuate active and public exclusion.

We will also be asked to continually question ourselves and not default to assuming we have the answers for everyone. We must accept that each of us belongs to someone else's out group and that we too live on their sufferance and acceptance.

We must grant that we will not ever live in a utopia where we will be able to stop thinking about and trying to achieve equity of opportunity and inclusion, because as social animals we will continue to distribute power unevenly and act out of self-interest. We are not to be trusted to be better than what we are, but we must be trusted to together ensure that we strive always to achieve it. We must impose checks and balances, rewards and consequences, to ensure fairness and continuity of principle, and we must each bend to these for the good of ourselves and everyone else.

We ought to accept that inclusion benefits not only those excluded, but all of us -- not only by the end result of universal fairness, but also by the process of sharing, questioning, and creating from a space that honors real difference in perspective. We need one another. The challenges before us and the opportunities are otherwise too great.

The diversity and inclusion training I recently attended with my coworkers is a start in reminding us that small kindnesses regularly offered make a difference. It's a start, something difficult in practice, but not challenging in concept. It is not yet enough.

We must give up a desire for revenge against those who have wronged us and others about whom we care. We must share what we have with a glad heart. We must remind ourselves not to fear those whom we genuinely don't understand. We must grow a thicker skin so that we can exude resilience and teach by example. We must establish common ground and be willing to live in compromise. We must join together to ask that our institutions protect those with whom we fervently disagree. We must learn and live and work side by side in peace. We must do what does not come easily or naturally, in terms of our social emotional nature. We must make the out group with whom we do not feel safe part of our in group.

Those who are excluded or suffering in ways large and small can do no less, even though they deserve more. They must be willing to speak out, even when they do not expect to be heard. They must reach out and be willing to accept help from those outside of their community, to help all of us heal and to form a common cause. They must not turn their hearts. And they must strive, even when they feel put down and left out, to live a life with dignity and purpose, to dream and manifest that dream, regardless. They must find, believe in, and communicate their own value, every day, in small ways and large. We cannot ask more only from those who choose instead to live for themselves or among themselves; we must also ask it from those who have reason to rage and withdraw, to live in bitterness and despair. We must ask it of everyone, as Dr. King asked it of all of us.

The challenge before us, myself included, is to do what is difficult. We cannot invest in platitudes or point fingers. That's a big ask, but it's what we must each do to honor his legacy.