What would happen on this planet if every single human had the capacity to reach out to someone very different and ask, “What’s it like to be you?” What if the oppressed black man who was unjustly imprisoned could reach out to the cop who wrongfully arrested him. What if both could ask, “What’s it like to be you?” and really listen. What if the woman who was harassed at work could sit down the boss that harassed her and both could ask, “What’s it like to be you?” What if both could open their hearts and hear the other? What if the blue-collar white man who voted for Trump could sit down with the bleeding-heart liberal woman from California and they could ask each other, “What’s it like to be you?” What if, instead of rushing to judgment or defensiveness or attack, they could simply be curious—and keep their mouths shut while the other speaks—and be genuinely interested in someone else’s point of view?
Many people on our planet right now have been so traumatized that they have lost the capacity for empathy, which is a core skill for any happy, successful tribe to be capable of practicing. The good news is that empathy can be taught! Brené Brown teaches that the core skill required to bench-press our empathy muscles is “perspective-taking.” We have to be capable of taking on someone else’s perspective so we can see what they see and feel what they feel, even if it’s different from what we see and feel. When we can take on someone else’s perspective, hearts open. Compassion blossoms. It’s even possible to have a change of heart—to expand your point of view to become large enough to hold someone else’s point of view under the larger umbrella of this expanded perspective. When you do so, it’s hard to be rigid and self-centered, focused only on being “right.” It becomes easier to care about being loving and inclusive and just.
The Culture Shifted Because Martin Luther King, Jr. Touched Hearts
This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated so beautifully in his life’s work—the ability to help people see and feel and empathize with the plight of people of color in a culture that denied them their basic human rights. Once people can personally experience someone else’s suffering, they’re more likely to be willing to participate in facilitating change, even if it means sacrificing some of their own privilege.
Martin Luther King did not attack or shame the white people the way many other Civil Rights activists did. He invited white people into their own ethics. He inspired the whites to do what they knew in their hearts was right.
We still have a long way to go, and it can be disheartening to see that there’s still so much inequality, anger, injustice, and white privilege on this 50th year remembering of his death.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I can’t help reflecting and wondering, “Could Martin Luther King’s message possibly be more relevant today?” How prophetic his work was, how daring he was to stand in the spotlight and try to create a new future, not by using force or overpowering those who wanted to maintain the status quo, but by speaking truth from the heart and holding an expanded vision that invites even those who opposed him to experience a genuine change of heart. How noble it is to dare to stand for true equality between all beings, whether we stand as civil rights activists or we stand as LGBTQ rights activists or we stand as holders of the sacredness of the land at Standing Rock—now is the time to take a stand for something other than greed, materialism, narcissism, domination, and white male privilege. Yet can we take such a stand as Martin Luther King did—not by shaming or dominating those who wish to maintain the status quo—but by inviting us all to participate in creating a more equal world? It won’t work to shame the greedy, the materialistic, the narcissists, or the white men any more than it would have worked in Martin Luther King’s day to shame the whites who preferred to oppress those of color. The Civil Rights Movement happened and blacks got the vote BECAUSE Martin Luther King and his fellow peaceful revolutionaries were able to deliver the Civil Rights message in a way that shifted the consciousness of those in power—the whites (often the white women and women of color who were in touch with the fierce feminine, notably.)
Let me offer this invitation in his honor. We must hold this vibration of love, non-judgment, and inclusiveness in order to make any difference changing the status quo right now. We must invite those we consider “other,” those we demonize as part of the problem—and hold a magnetic vibration of love that breaks down the defenses of those who allow fear and scarcity to cause them to lose touch with their own soul’s integrity, who forget to ask “What’s it like to be you?” because they’re too scared and busy trying to get their own needs met.
Yes, I know this sounds naive. I know that the people who oppose equal rights for all beings on the planet right now are likely to write off these words as New Age bullshit. Most are likely to cast me aside as one of those out-of-touch, privileged progressives who was ignorant enough to get hoodwinked by my idealism and vote for that devil Hillary. And they might be right. I can’t know what it’s like to be a truck driver who lives in the Midwest or a coal-miner who might lose his job if free energy takes hold.
But I am willing to listen to those who are different than me, and I’m willing to make sacrifices to my privileged life if we could come together in a space of love and try to sort out how we do something none of us know how to do.
The Space Between Stories
Could we dare to stand in that place of humility and actually admit that we are in what Charles Eisenstein calls “the space between stories.” We don’t know what to do next—we only know that our current culture isn’t working for any of us. Not even the elite holders of the current cultural narrative are satisfied or happy. But what’s our next story? Will we dare to actually hear and feel one another so we can try to write a new story that feels fair to us all? Are we willing to dare to stand up, speak out about what hurts, ask for what we need and listen to others when they express what hurts and what they need?
This doesn’t mean we don’t set boundaries and enforce consequence. Compassion has a wrathful and fierce face too—one that says THIS STOPS NOW, especially when Love is being used as a rationalization for abuse (as I described in THIS is not love). Listening to one another does not mean we don’t then take action. Making ourselves vulnerable to hearing what hurts in someone else does not mean we fail to step fully into our passionate activism. But it does mean we do so without demonizing the “enemy.” Only then can the alleged enemy have any potential to be our next ally.
If we dare to ask “What’s it like to be you?” and really care about what someone else answers, I can only imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. will smile upon us on this day of remembering his contribution.
Let’s Honor Coretta Scott King Too
While we’re remembering the man, let us also not forget the woman who was the wind beneath his wings, the one who tolerated a lot of shadow in a man who stood for a lot of light and held a position of leadership in her own right. At a time when the feminine is rising and consciousness around acknowledging the women who uplift the men who have gotten all the credit rises with it, let us also remember Coretta Scott King, the writer, anti-war activist, women’s rights activist, and civil rights icon who was married to Martin Luther King, Jr.. Let us honor the woman who not only carried on the Civil Rights Movement after losing her husband to murder, but also raised four children and went on to champion civil rights in Congress, including in a 9-page letter to Congress opposing Jeff Sessions’ nomination for federal judge. In this letter, she wrote, “The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.” She wrote, later adding, “I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”
May we also honor the many women who stood for equality in the 1960’s as we honor the man who stood in leadership with them, and may we honor those who stand tall still- holding space for love, equality, and justice at a time when such virtues are threatened without apology in our own White House, where people of color who live in places like Haiti and Africa are diminished regularly by our current leadership. May we invite those who might believe Haitians and Africans live in “shithole countries” to ask “What’s it like to be you?” if you’re a Haitian or African who hears the most powerful man on the planet belittle you this way? Let us also ask “What’s it like to be you?” to the kind of man who could possibly say such a thing. Let us ask “What’s it like to be you?” to all those who defend our President for allegedly saying such a thing. Let us ask all who are offended by these words, “What’s it like to be you?”
Let us listen to each other, dear ones. Let us dare to have uncomfortable conversations. Let us dare to care.
With love and such a sincere desire for equality for all,
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