This week when we remember and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and his radically peaceful stand for justice for all, I am thinking about what I do (can do, should be doing) to help make a more peaceful and just world.
I just finished reading “I Am Malala” (Malala Yousafzai), and was struck by the courage in one so young. I was also dumbfounded by how interchangeable her description of Pakistan at the beginning of the Taliban infiltration was to what is happening in my own beloved country today. And it terrifies me.
Were Martin and Malala terrified? Probably. Angry? Maybe. But mostly they just looked around at what they saw as injustice and figured out what they could do about it and did it. Has it made a difference? At first glance, it would appear not; but, “the arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice.” It bends very slowly, and sometimes it unbends, but that’s not a reason to give up. The more who join the march, the sooner it will bend under the weight.
A tarot card I drew recently to help me think about the resolution to a challenge I face depicts a blacksmith at the forge, transforming a red hot bar of steel into shape, one tap at a time. It takes a strike while the iron is hot, patience, and focus to reshape it.
Anger is the hammer of change for some; peaceful resistance for others; public service, comedy, reporting for still others. So what can I do? I am not Malala, or Martin, or even my sister who just won a seat on our city council. I can practice kindness and compassion. What if we all did at least that? What if we set aside mean-spiritedness and hatred—misdirected anger I believe is counterproductive.
Last week, when a driver turned left in front of me, causing me to brake hard, I chose not to honk at him. I wasn’t in danger, it wouldn’t have helped keep me or another safe. I would have blown my horn only out of irritation and to let him know he’d been stupid. He probably already knew that and was embarrassed—we’ve all been there. Or he’s just naturally stupid and it would have made him angry at me for catching him at it.
I felt kinder by not honking. I truly believe when we force our outrage on people who anger us, we solve nothing; it just escalates the hostility. When we act for change, when we talk about what we want the world to look like, as King did and Yousafzai is doing, rather than about how much it sucks, then we bend the arc a little further. We become a a light rather than more darkness.
I read a beautiful post Sunday, “Reason to Hope,” on a blog I follow by Katrina Kenison. She said what I tried to say in my own post two weeks ago. She talks about “outrage fatigue.” That is what I feel, and why I have unsubscribed to all the groups that send multiple emails every day to my mailbox giving me the latest updates on the myriad reasons to be outraged.
“…while there is much going on I can’t control or make sense of, I can choose how to respond. And anger, fear, and despair won’t make the world a better place. Faith might, though; and so could hope. Combine faith and hope with positive actions, no matter how small, and you have a potent alchemy for change… On the first day of this new year, I made myself a promise. Going forward, I would be more mindful of what kind of energy I send out into the world.” Katrina Kenison
I want to just quote Katrina’s whole post, it’s so good, so encouraging. I recommend it to you.
So I am going to focus this year on how I respond. Rather than staying outraged, I will focus on being an “artisan for the common good,” as Pope Francis called citizens who, as Kenison says, “simply do what they can to make things better, not through noisy words but by silent deeds.” I will give only encouragement, including on Facebook. People are angry, sad, sick, lonely, and discouraged enough already.
And I will remember to shine a light on those who do the same: the person who carefully bags my groceries, the car mechanic who keeps my car chugging, the regulars in the cafe as I sit writing who smile at me when they leave, the barista in the coffee shop who knows my order, the man who helps me take care of the too-big property I live on and tells me not to hesitate to call him if I have an emergency, the readers of this blog who thank me for my words. Small kindnesses aren’t small.
I will silently acknowledge the city workers who put up and take down Christmas decorations and summer flower baskets, and go out in the dark and nasty weather to get the power back on; the city council members and downtown merchants who work hard and courageously to make this a great place to live. And, yes, the public office holders in Washington who see what is happening and raise their voices. These and more are the artisans of the common good. I’m going to be looking for them.
And most of all, I will try yet again to show compassion to my mother. Like all of us she is peddling as hard as she can and deserves my understanding even when she aggravates me. She’s trying too: lately not a visit goes by when she doesn’t thank me for all I do for her. She is grace under fire. Something to strive for.