What to change to cause real change…

June 26, 2020

There is much in the news about demands for change and an end to discrimination of all types and the inequities that exist in our society. As I look back over quotes that I save from the Jack‘s Winning Words blog, two stood out as seeming to go together to provide a good starting point for accomplishing the needed changes.

“If you were to change the world, start with yourself.”  (Gandhi)

  • AND –

“If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”  (Mary Engelbreit)

People almost never look in the mirror and honestly say to themselves – “You are a part of the problem.” It is always “they” or “them” who are at fault – the bigots and haters that we see on the news. Yet it is those who remain silent and let things go on that facilitate that bigotry or wrong behavior. The bully who goes unchallenged by his/her peers that continues to bully others. The bigot who refuses to perform a service for, or sell a product to, a gay couple will continue to discriminate. The police who treat people of color differently will continue to harass and kill with impunity. If we see it and don’t say or do something, then we are a part of the problem and not of the solution.

In our prayers for forgiveness at church we pray that God will forgive us for the things that we have done and the things left undone. It is in those things left undone that we become part of the problem. Today’s quotes direct us to spend more time in reflection on our own thoughts and actions (or inaction). A good start is to examine how the nightly news stories about the demonstrations against police brutality make you feel.

Most white viewers likely have little frame of reference for empathy with the black demonstrators, unless they have been stopped and perhaps roughly treated by the police sometime in their past. For the most part, white people don’t view a stop by the police as a life-threatening event – it’s just an inconvenience. Compare that to the interviews that you see on the news about how blacks view interactions with the police. Their fears are palpable.

Perhaps then, your lack of empathy or even your indifference to the obvious issues that exist for people of color is a part of the problem- part of the things left undone. If you feel like you can’t, by yourself, change the problem, then take Mary Engelbreit’s advice and change the way that you think about it. Let that change in thinking also drive changes in your life. Not everyone can join in the marches and demonstrations; however, everyone can vote and elect new officials who will affect the changes that are needed.  Everyone can change the way that they interact with people who are different from them. Often, it is just that interaction itself which makes the difference.

Heeding Gandhi’s advice means starting by recognizing where you are today and giving yourself the goals to be someplace else tomorrow. What can you change about yourself to make you the person that you’d really like to be? What can you do to get yourself out of the safe comfort zone of indifference to the plight of others?  Start by changing the way that you think about it.

Now, that’s real change.

Use your brain and control your mind…

February 12, 2016

“Do not call for black power or green power.  Call for brain power.”  (Barbara Jordan) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Jack went on to add his comments about Black History Month, which is what Barbara Jordan was alluding to in her quote.

It’s interesting that the brain helps us distinguish between colors, but it is the mind that assigns tags to those colors. Those tags may include fear or mistrust or prejudices, based solely upon color. For some that is enough for them to form opinions or to make visualizationjudgments. Yet, if we used our brains, we might ask ourselves, upon what basis of facts, other than color am I basing these feelings or opinions? Have I even talked to this person? Do I even know their name or anything about their life story? How can I have jumped to a conclusion of fear or mistrust, based solely upon the one input of color? Yet many do. Use your brain.

There is an old piece of advice that is widely circulated in signs and sayings that goes: “Engage brain before engaging mouth.” It might also apply that one should engage their brains before making up their minds, especially about other people. Color is just one differentiation between people; it just happens to be the easiest to spot. Use your brain.

Language and the way people speak is another differentiation that many use to jump to talking-2discriminatory opinions. We have had such an influx of immigration from so many foreign countries that it is almost impossible not to overhear others speaking in a language that we do not understand or with an accent that is noticeable. There is also the street slang (sometimes labeled Ebonics) that is used by a portion of the African-American population. Any of these cues can kick off an immediate reaction that is just as powerful as the recognition of the color of the individual. Those reactions are often not favorable and lead to conclusions that are just as wrong as those based solely upon color. Use your brain.

The best advice against letting these or any other differences that one might notice lead you immediately to some conclusion or reaction is to engage your brain. Think before you act or react. Learn to control your mind. The first thing that most will have to do is to calm the perception of that person somehow representing a threat to you. Unless someone walks up to you with some sort of weapon in their hand, why do you perceive them to be a threat? Is it their color? Is it the way they speak? Is it how they are dressed? Why are any of those things a threat to you? Use your brain.

The key to using your brain is to let it work without a preconceived overlay of prejudice or fear. We have turned the old saying “innocent until proven guilty” completely around andtimid perverted it through our prejudices into “guilty until they can prove themselves to be innocent.” If, instead of thinking (with our minds) that every person of color or language difference that you meet is somehow out to do you harm; it might make life more interesting and rewarding, if you went into each meeting with a new person in the frame of mind that you were going to get to know them and see what interesting things that you might learn from them. You can do that if you, Use your brain.

I suspect that the people that you jump to conclusion about get awfully tired of having to exclusionprove themselves to you somehow. They may have also jumped to conclusions about you, based upon what they see or hear from you. They may have fears about you and what you may do to them, especially if you happen to be wearing a police uniform. You might immediately say how could they think that about you? Well, duh; use your brain; what’s on the news all too often these days. “If they only got to know me”, you might think; “they wouldn’t be afraid of me.” OK, so why is the opposite not true? Use your brain.

As you go about your day and the upcoming weekend, try to be more cognizant of the boredfrequency in which you let some preconceived prejudice in your mind take control of you and shape your reactions to people. The more you become aware of it the easier it might become to at least stop and try to Use your brain.

You’ll be glad that you did.

You can’t walk the walk; but, do more than just talk the talk…

April 10, 2015

“There’s a simple trick for getting along with all kinds of people.  You climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  (Atticus Finch)  – from the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Jack went on to write – The Civil Rights Movement was stirred by more than the marches.  The novel, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” also played a role.  Do you recall that the character Atticus from that book and movie helped his children see civil rights in a new way?

man in big shoesThere is another well-known saying – “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

While I agree with the underlying sentiment of both expressions, the reality is that none of us has the ability to truly put ourselves in someone else’s skin or shoes, so that we experience things from the same perspective. There have been attempts by whites in the past to understand the perspective of African-American, the first reportedly by journalist Ray Sprigle. In 1948 (from WikiPedia), Sprigle disguised himself as a black man and wrote a series of articles under the title, “I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days“, which was published in many newspapers. In 1961 journalist John Howard Griffin published Black Like Me, a nonfiction book which describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. Griffin kept a journal  of his experiences which became the material for the book and later the film. Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas and underwent treatments under a doctor’s supervision that turned his skin dark. His book was turned into a 1961 movie starring James Whitmore.

Both Sprigle and Griffin reported quite a bit of harassment over their articles and the book’s assessment of racism in exclusionAmerica at that time. One can perhaps make the leap through time to see that today we have greatly expanded the categories of people who are stereotyped and discriminated against in our society. African-Americans have been joined by other identifiable racial or ethnic groups who have migrated to American and who are “profiled” to use a modern term by the white segment of our society and many would say by the police and other authorities. Add to that list the whole GLBT category of people whose appearance may blend in, but who fail the “WHAT” test for the so-called moral majority. There is no way to get some Doctor to help you disguise yourself in enough ways such that you could, “climb into his skin and walk around in it” for each of these groups.

So, we really can’t put ourselves into the skin or shoes of another person. Most of us can’t truly understand what it’s like to be judged by what you are or what you look like rather than who you are. The people who make those judgments seldom take the time to get to know who you are, since they have already formed an opinion of you based upon what you are or what you look like. It is also interesting that those very groups who are being discriminated against many times develop stereotypes about their tormentors, which they then indiscriminately apply to all who share a similar appearance. not like meAfrican-Americans, many with more than enough reason from personal experiences; often have “white bread” stereotypes that they use as a broad-brush for all Caucasians that they encounter.  The GLBT community likely has some strong stereotypes about the “straight” community, as well. Unfortunately, all too many of the traits of these caricatures are based in observed behavior by all of the groups involved. We tend to hold onto the worst case scenarios that we observe and let the good that was also there fade in our memories.

The strength of those dueling stereotypes can make the establishment of true lines of communications difficult. Fortunately most of the groups have one thing in common that is both powerful and useful for getting passed the barriers that separate – faith. None of the stereotyped groups is shunned because they are atheists. In fact, many have very strong religious beliefs that were born out of the need for God’s help to get through the hardships of the discrimination.opinionated Some of the most virulent haters may thump their Bibles and claim that those they hate are Godless  or that “Their God” condemns the behavior that they don’t approve of; having put aside the most basic Commandment of all to love one another as they love their God. Pray for them for they have truly lost their way.

So, it is not surprising that often the churches that these groups belong to and the church leaders are often at the forefront of the efforts to promote understanding and acceptance between the groups. It is hard to continue turning the other cheek when you have been slapped upside both sides of your head, Tased and perhaps shot. It is hard to stay positive and motivated to work within “the system”, when the system has denied you the basic marital rights that you deserve. It is hard not to get angry when you are stopped and search every time you try to fly somewhere just because of where you or your parents came to America from. Put yourself in those shoes and you won’t be able to walk a mile before you are stopped and questioned about why you are walking through “their neighborhood”. You should, it will be pointed out, “go back to where you belong.” For all of these reasons, it is critical that the churches keep delivering the messages of forgiveness and love for your fellow men; and that they keep reaching out, no matter how many times their hand is rejected.

The church leaders who are preaching against hate and discrimination and for tolerance and love are just trying to show us all the way back to the core beliefs of our Faiths. There are more than a few examples in the Bible of Jesus and theWWJD Disciples reaching out to people who were not “like us”, not Jews; and even a few descriptions of Him going into their homes to share meals. Eventually, those who were ”not like us” became the majority of the believers, because they accepted the message of the Good News.

I have a feeling that our goal may not have to be to get all the way to understanding everything about the people in any of these groups; but, rather, to get rid of the hate that comes along with the stereotypes that we have adopted about them. I could walk 10 miles in the shoes of Snoop Dog and still not understand some of the stuff that he says or where he’s coming from; but, maybe I should stop worrying about that and focus instead in accepting him as a fellow man. I may never understand the attraction between two men (or two women) for each other, but I do understand the concept of the love that they can share and that’s enough for me.  To use a famous phrase from someone who had every right not to be in the mood to say them, “can’t we all just get along?”

Veto hate…give love a chance

April 3, 2015

From the blog Jack’s Winning Words comes this timely quote –

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”  (Jonathan Swift)

I say timely because of the recent headlines about the hate that is being disguised as opinionatedreligious freedom in several states. There’s nothing that illustrates this little quote more than a bunch of good-ole, bible-thumping, conservative white guys in positions to create laws for the rest of us. They haven’t got enough love to really be called Christians, but they cloak themselves in that title anyway and then proceed to try to legislate life for those “who aren’t like us.”

Much of religion as practiced today by those of good-ole, bible-thumping, conservative white guys is highly hypocritical, espousing the moral high ground while occupying the lowlands of hate, discrimination and exclusion.  Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a good editorial on the recent spate of so-called religious freedom laws that have been passed in several states lately by their good-ole white guys legislatures. You can read it at –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/04/02/indiana-gay-rights/70830076/

His headline is Faith of force and exclusion not the only faith there is. He writes that there was even a law proposed by Sylvia Allen, a conservative female lawmaker out in Arizona, to require church attendance as a way, she thought, to reverse the moral decline that she see in America.

The hypocrisy does not stop at our own doorstep. Many of these same politicians puff themselves up and rail against the atrocities that they see being committed elsewhere in the world in the name of religion; while turning a blind eye to their own human rights
transgressions here at home. The simple fact is that all who trample on others or who promote hate, discrimination and intolerance in the name of their religion are wrong. They fail that simple little test that you see from time to time on those brightly-colored, WWJDrubber wrist bands that have WWJD on them.  If they really believe that Jesus would refuse to serve at a wedding because the couple being married are members of GLBT community then they have failed to understand the teachings of the very bible that they have been thumping all the while. BUT, they spit out in vile retort – “they’re not like us.” To which those on the receiving end might best reply – “thank God for that!”

Having been founded by people who fled to its shores to escape religious persecution, the drafters of America’s founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – went to great pains to craft an environment of principles, rights and laws that insured that religion would not again be used by government against its own exclusioncitizens. Government officials in several states seem to be trying to circumvent those founding intents. Many say that they are trying to return to “old values.” Perhaps they have overshot the mark a bit and returned all the way to the old values that were being imposed on those who sought refuge through escape to what became America. How ironic that they do not see the similarities in the discrimination that they are now trying to foist upon the citizens in the name of religion.

It is also telling about today’s America that economics seems to have a stronger role to play than the religious beliefs of those same legislators. Faced with economic boycotts over their new laws all are trying to backpedal on those laws as fast as they can, all the while defending their positions as defenders of the moral high ground. I’m reminded of the segregationist holdouts in the South during the civil rights movement, the face of Wallace buttonwhich was embodied in George Wallace standing on the steps of a school to deny entry to African-American children. Many of them thumped their bibles and claimed to have some moral right to discriminate against blacks. While most of those angry, good-ole, white guys have passed on; their progeny now stand on the steps of their own fortresses (apparently bakeries and flower shops, now) thumping their bibles and claiming the right to discriminate against a new group of people.

In two days we celebrate the defeat of death for us all by Jesus; perhaps sometime in our lifetimes we will gather to celebrate the defeat of exclusion and discrimination and the victory of love over hate. Maybe not this year; but, we can keep hope alive. WWJD? I think he would have vetoed those laws had he been the governor in any of those states. They certainly have no place in His world or His book. Celebrate the rise of the Son by embracing those around you who are different than us, rather than finding ways to hate them.