“…symbolic and cultural acts have real political power…”
“…most changes travel from the edges to the center.”
~Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
We are in a time of great challenge. It is also a time of great opportunity.
Even in turbulent times, in times when enormous, long-standing social problems erupt, we each have the power to take action that makes a strong and positive difference.
On a personal level, lasting change often comes about as a result of one small step at a time. When addressing broader community and national issues, we might feel that our one-step-at-a-time efforts are too small to have any impact. History tells us otherwise; that there are times when the combined, persistent efforts of ordinary citizens can effect major societal and cultural shifts (Solnit, 2016).
What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend brings into focus the continued presence of hatred, racism and violence in our society. We cannot avert our eyes. We cannot deny what has happened. This kind of violence attacks an entire community’s health, and harms the well-being of those living in it (SPLC, 2017). It affects, though with less immediacy, those of us who are not nearby.
There have been deaths, injuries and other harmful impacts in Charlottesville, bringing reason for mourning, sorrow, and anger. What has followed brings reason for hope. We are seeing business leaders, political leaders, thought leaders and ordinary citizens call for an end to the deep and sometimes violent divisions that have been so evident both before and since the 2016 presidential election.
Most of us are not well-known leaders. Our lives are far removed from the centers of power and influence. Many of us are members of the marginalized groups that regularly experience microaggressions, discrimination and oppression. We may sometimes feel as though there is little we can do from the margins that we occupy.
Yet great power can amass at those margins. The edges of society are the shadowy, unacknowledged places where new stories can emerge. These stories travel to the recognized centers of political and social leadership in ways that are hard to trace, but that can replace old stories and lead to changes in long-held, oppressive cultural assumptions and beliefs. These new stories gradually become societal norms, embedded in policy, law and practice. (Solnit, 2016).
Perhaps the work that emerges from the margins is never truly done. Progress requires continued vigilance and persistent action. Though much has changed in the US over many decades, hatred, racism and oppression never disappeared. Now we are seeing an open resurgence of hate speech and behavior that had become unacceptable.
The call is clear. Now is the time for each of us to share what we have to offer, to do what we can. But it’s not always clear what to do, especially when our feelings are in a turmoil, matching the chaos of external events.
There are things we can do, and those things are powerful.
We can take steps that make a difference in our own lives, in our families, neighborhoods, communities and states. We can make an impact on local and national politicians and their political decisions.
Perhaps the best starting point is the closest one. We can start with ourselves. We can cultivate self-compassion and compassion for others. Rather than fighting the voice of our Inner Critic, we can find ways to activate our “Inner Encourager” who supports and uplifts us. We can use these self-compassion meditations and exercises. We can allow ourselves to express and recover from the strong and difficult feelings we’re having in response to recent events. Talking with a trusted friend is one way to do that. Another way is by freeing yourself to create art or to write without worries about the quality of the product. The purpose isn’t necessarily to share what you create, but to express your inner experience and make sense of it.
Compassion for others flows from self-compassion and from recognizing our shared humanity. During times of unrest, we can express that compassion by reaching out to those who are members of groups that are targets of hate groups’ actions. They may feel heightened fear, isolation, or vulnerability. Making time for a phone call or visit, sending a card, or inviting a friend or neighbor to dinner sends the message “you are not alone,” and “I am here for you.”
Such compassion helps us build meaningful connections within our families and communities. These connections provide us with important sources of help, support and belonging and help build strong, healthy communities that support their members’ well-being.
The best cure for hate is a united community. As Chris Boucher of Yukon, Pennsylvania put it after residents there opposed a local meeting of the Ku Klux Klan:
A united coalition is like Teflon. Hate can’t stick there. ~Southern Poverty Law Center, 2017
The Southern Poverty Law Center has released an update of Ten Ways to Fight Hate, a community resource guide. It gives detailed information and practical suggestions for taking constructive action at local, state and national levels to create the conditions where “hate can’t stick.”
The ten ways described in the guide are
- Join forces
- Support the victims
- Speak up
- Educate yourself
- Create an alternative
- Pressure leaders
- Stay engaged
- Teach acceptance
- Dig deeper
You can download this free resource and let the ideas in it inspire your own actions. Perhaps you will feel drawn to try one or more of them, possibly with adaptations to suit your own situation and your community. Perhaps you’ll create your own actions, uniquely suited to your interests, gifts and talents.
In the midst of turmoil and chaos, seek out #signsofhope.
Realistic, clear-eyed hope does not deny the negative feelings we experience in response to what took place in Charlottesville this past weekend. It acknowledges them, and allows us to express and address them. Even while giving ourselves the opportunity to experience these difficult feelings, hope energizes us to take hope-based actions. In turn, taking positive action strengthens hope.
Hope exists even in difficult, turbulent times. Noticing and sharing #signsofhope strengthens our own and others’ vision of the better world we are working toward. The #signsofhope can lift your spirits and fill your heart.
Here are some #signsofhope I’ve seen during the past few days.
Creative Little Park, East Village, New York. Reminding me of humans’ capacity for wonder, beauty, and creativity.
These are important events, not because they right the wrongs that happened in Charlottesville; not because they heal the long-standing social ills so strongly highlighted by this week’s events, but because of what they symbolize. They communicate that hate and violence have no place here. They help create healthy communities. We can each to contribute to that message through our own personal and collective actions.
Strengthen others’ hope by sharing your #signsofhope on social media, or in the comments here.
Solnit, R. (2016). Hope in the dark. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
Southern Poverty Law Center (2017). Ten ways to fight hate: A community resource guide.
My gratitude to Kerra Bolton, for discussing an earlier draft of this post and offering ideas to improve it.