A couple of months ago I was waiting for the metro. It was Monday and I was tired. As I waited for the train to come, one of my best friends called me. Often on Mondays after we've both finished teaching (him dance, me yoga) as I patiently wait for the subway to take me home to bed, we catch up. I always look forward to our calls because he just gets me. In the middle of our conversation a commotion started next to me as a group of young boys started fighting each other. They started removing their belts from their pants and pushing, shoving, and hitting each other. I waited for them to stop, but then one of them got out their phone and started filming. At this point I felt instinctually that nothing good could come from it and worried that one of them would get shoved onto the tracks and die. Few people were in the station and no one seemed to be doing anything about it. So I started getting really nervous.
My friend on the other line was telling me a story when he noticed the noise and sensed how quiet I suddenly was. "Are you ok?" he asked. "No...some kids are fighting. Hold on a minute." I said. If no one else is going to do something about this, I thought, I'd better do something before someone ends up really hurt.
Being there for others is in my blood. It's something that was taught to me as I was growing up. I witnessed my parents and my grandparents countless times help people and serve in the community. Whether it was stopping our car after witnessing a car accident to check on the people in the accident and ensure police were called, or providing food and clothing to people less fortunate than us. This value of community and giving back comes from a history of struggle and poverty.
My grandfather grew up in a poor alcoholic and abusive family. And by the time he was just entering middle school, it looked as if he and his brothers were destined to spend their lives in jail. After getting arrested for breaking into a house he faced a turning point. The judge told him it was his last chance to turn his life around and gave him the choice of doing time in a juvenile home or community service and many hours being mentored by a pastor. He chose the later. Knowing that he needed to turn his life around, he was blessed to be mentored in that moment by a pastor who helped him unlock the man he would later grow up to be. A man widely respected in his community, serving on the school board, as a foundational leader and member in our local church, and as a deeply loved and admired family man. A man who's picture sits by my bed each night as a reminder of the kind of human I admire in life.
My grandfather was lucky. Not everyone is so lucky to meet a judge who can see the potential of the young men they meet and create an opportunity for them to step into that potential.
So back to the subway platform. As I continued to watch everyone do nothing about this group of boys, I decided to do something. I stood up and firmly said to them "Stop! If you don't stop, I'm going to get the police. Someone's going to get hurt!" They stopped and one of them looked at me sternly, started moving close to me, and then proceeded to start yelling back at me. I remember feeling the blood drain out of my face in shock and felt my fear mechanism inside turn on. He told me to mind my own business and then yelled gendered and racially slurred statements at me.
What I didn't realize at the time was this. Despite my good intentions, I was actually making this group of boys feel more unsafe by trying to intervene. Because I'm white. And they're black. In the country where we currently live, it's unlikely these young boys will have the same opportunity my grandfather had to turn his life around. They may never see the courtroom if charged because in our current circumstances, they could end up...dead. As one of my friends explained to me after I told her about the incident...in the moment I said I'd get the police, these boys heard that they may end up dead and I became the source of a life threatening situation.
I've spent a lot time over the last several weeks listening. Listening to my friends perspectives on the current situation around racism because it's really hurting my heart.
I've been feeling emotionally drained. I've felt angry. I've felt sad. I've felt helpless. I've felt hopeful and everything in between.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe current tensions are an invitation to recognize that we don't wear the same "glasses" in life because our path to the present is dramatically different from each other. And the only way to work together to get to the other side of tension and violence, is deeper understanding. Acknowledgement. And above all empathy.
I'll never be able to entirely understand the black experience because I'm not black. However, I can make it a priority to listen, to understand, and to acknowledge why a group of boys could feel so threatened by my effort to keep them safe. From this wider perspective to change my lenses on my glasses, I can make better decisions that I hope can support my eternal intention to reduce suffering in this world.
I experience joy when I don't sugarcoat reality or stay in the darkness of ignorance. But rather, bravely choose to meet the whole picture precisely as it is. Regardless of how uncomfortable that may be.
That means the path to joy is not always fun. That may mean I experience some heart ache. Some tension myself. Some conflict. But in the end, embracing the shadow and the light helps me create more wholeness inside myself and therefore able to see the wholeness in others.
For this week's Joy Tip Wednesday, I want to invite you to change your lenses, widen your perspective, and see the whole picture of reality. For me this week, it continues to be a desire to understand the current racial situation in this country. Maybe you want to do the same and create opportunities for open conversation like never before. Vulnerably asking friends, family, co-workers, the questions burning in your heart. Or listening to the stories that make you uncomfortable. Or maybe it's something at the micro level in your life that's beckoning you. A disagreement you have with your partner. Family member. A decision someone close to you made that you disagree with. Listen and invite them to share how they see the situation, the decision, the disagreement, or the world, from their perspective. There are many ways you could do this. One way that I've found to be supportive in difficult, heated, interpersonal conflicts or sensitive conversations is through the following active listening exercise. Here's how:
- Set an intention to listen and create a safe space. Be the vessel for your friends, family members, or acquaintances. Be ready to receive.
- Invite the other person to share their perspective. Do not interrupt. Listen patiently. And let them speak until there is a pause of silence that seems like they have completed sharing.
- Summarize what you heard. Share what you received in the sharing back to them as best as you can.
- Ask for confirmation. "Did I get that?" Make sure that what you heard is exactly what they wanted you to hear.
- Ask if there is more. Provide the opportunity for them to share more. And again, do not interrupt. Simply listen and let them share openly.
- Repeat steps 3-5 until the person has shared everything they want to share.
Maybe the formula above is too rigid for you. No problem. Take the essence of it and play with that in your life. Think receive, don't interrupt, share what you heard, create space for more sharing. In really heated exchanges, I've implemented this technique directly in my own life. And in other sensitive situations, I've taken the essence and applied it.
Many people have asked me recently how to maintain hope in such difficult times. My answer..."I believe in the goodness of humanity." Despite what happens, I do believe in goodness. And I'll continue to believe in goodness until I leave this plain of existence because I believe underneath it all, underneath the containers of these different bodies that we reside in, that Goodness resides and rules the day. I'll leave you with some demonstrated goodness below of protestors and counter-protestors in Dallas coming together. May we have the heart to receive all of reality exactly as it is and meet it with an open heart.