Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Long Road Home

A long forgotten image comes to mind.

I am five or six, maybe seven years old. And, I am riding my 4th of July, or perhaps Memorial Day, decorated tricycle, streaming with red, white and blue crepe papers.

I am all excited to be going to the parade, especially on this particular day when I will ride my bike in it. My Mom and Dad are in on the fun too.

I like the event. I am happy and feeling very much a part of a celebratory day. Everyone around me seems equally pleased.

This is the America I will remember in a small Ohio town. I carry the memory with me always, stored along with the other memorabilia that make up the treasure chest of who I have been and who I believe I am now.

But today as this image comes to mind, it seems a bit off. Viewing it with the fresh eyes of an expanding perspective, the pleasure of the day remembered is disturbed. New Horizons’ Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations is prodding me to take a second glance at it. I am saddened by what I see.

The scene revisited now alerts me to the fact that other than the red, white and blue of my holiday decorations there is an absence of color in the picture; the color of people who are not white like me.

Now I see signs signally that I was born to “white privilege.” Oh dear, I hadn’t noticed it before!

Sameness, not sameness got to concerning me when I realized that my Jewish mother determinedly kept me apart from non-Jews. As I got older I resented this. Resented it without paying attention to others around me, less noticeable than my self-centeredness allowed me to see, who were also excluded from belonging. But for reasons their elders might not have chosen for them.

Emancipated from this circumstance, by college and then into my adulthood I rectified my situation, after all the choice was mainly mine.

Bleaching my hair blonde camouflaged my physical aspects so I could readily hide my Eastern European, Jewish roots. The Six-Day War of 1967 and my troublesome views on it offered me license to even take an anti-Israel position. Again the choice was mine or so I thought.

Later I would look back on this as also being my ticket to declaring myself as having quit being Jewish.  Still later I gave myself permission to even be anti-Semitic. Of course, now I know that one cannot quit being Jewish. Jewish born, especially of a Jewish mother, is forever Jewish, no matter what!

Still the notion that belonging or not belonging was always still up to me stayed with me.

This was, of course, long before I understood I fully understood the lethal scope of anti-Semitism. In the meantime my evolving adulthood values turned to feminism and civil rights. The war in Viet Nam was of less immediate concern to me. But the rifle-toting, anti-war demonstrators I encountered around me in Washington on what I thought was an ordinary work day, heading for the Mall for May Day Protests, brought that circumstance more closely into my awareness.

Taking a stand for peace and social justice, thus, became a part of who I became, a long ways away from the days of my little parade decorated tricycle.

Nonetheless, outside of the days and the years immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the personal influence it had on me, I am realizing today, this very day at hand here that, in spite of my dedications to equality and bridge building across any and all barriers that divide people, what I have contributed of late to the progress of racial equity has been quite sparse.

And, especially being Jewish I should have known better. So today I am accepting that I have a long way to go if I am to truly understand my brothers and sisters of racial and ethnic difference from me. I’ve only just begun what promises to now be the beginning of a whole new chapter for me on behalf of equal rights, altruism, honor and respect for others different from myself, peace and social justice.

I’ve got to go farther than formerly to do my utmost to honor those who were not welcome to ride in my parade; a parade open only to those privileged to be white.  

I see this now, with shame and humbleness. I have been marked by white privilege. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Magic In “Not Seeing (Most) Others As Enemies”

There is black magic, no doubt about it, just as there is EVIL in this world; darkness and depravity. A quick view of today’s headlines broadcasts this loud and clear. Even without the horrors of ISIS commanding our attention there are all kinds of genuine threats lurking. We must be alert to these and cautious in our dealings.

There is, also, contrived magic such as high tech rock concerts present. And the fanciful magic of a trip to Disneyland. Then there is the magic of a child’s smile, the earliest flowers coming into bloom, sunshine on a bright spring day, the moon and stars overhead on a clear night.

The innate ability of humankind to produce certain forms of what might be called magic can be found in the healing practices of Native American Medicine Men and the trance dancers of the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Throughout history there is evidence of rituals and traditions that produce results far beyond the ordinary.

There is also a kind of magic that is generated when a group of campers lost in a storm come through the ordeal with a minimum of injury; the potential for lives endangered averted by pulling together to surmount obstacles. This is the magic of ordinary people going beyond the ordinary in their daily lives. This is the kind of magic for which my heart and mind and every fiber of my being yearns.  John Lennon’s words in “Imagine” give voice to the vision.

My “Lean In Legacy Template” offers a formula for a very simple, ordinary magic. It directs us to invite the magic of a smile by doing the simplest of acts such as saying hello to a stranger. It guides us to the magic initiated by asking “Can I carry your bags of open that door for you?”

The pivotal point of the magic my "Lean In Legacy Template" is built upon is a philosophy and a set of behaviors that convey “I see you in all your frail humanity. And I accept you as is.”

You are not my enemy!  Thus I open myself to you.

ISIS and the likes of such as Al Qaeda are enemies. They trade in unimaginable horror. Presently they are beyond the control of any single entity, even the combined forces of united nations are no match for the threats they are imposing. We are devastated by their activities, frightened by their tactics, helpless in the face of what they are willing to do to innocent people

We can let threats such as ISIS imposes on us derail us. But we do have choices about how to deal with the Darkness threatening someone somewhere at this very moment.  We can do whatever is necessary to keep clearing darkness out of ourselves.

In times of distress it becomes even more of a necessity than in times of ease and peace that we “explore the dark side” of ourselves.  And, do our utmost to reverse that darkness that hides in each one of us.

Below are three tools you can draw upon to help you keep your daily intentions on the side of the Light, no matter the darkness surrounding you. 

Notice, in particular, that the first two illuminate the subtle and not so subtle ways your Dark Side (and mine) play out in our daily activities. Then notice, by contemplating the contrasts between these and my “Lean In Legacy Template.”  You will soon see that the latter of the three, the "Lean In Legacy Template," goes beyond seeing others as enemies and offers a doorway into your personal creation of magic.
Remember the old saying, “Evil can succeed when good men do nothing.” It reminds us that we are not totally helpless in the face of Evil, if we do something of a higher nature each and every day in every way that we can. I believe this is the essence of what it means to "Think globa, act local."

You will be amazed by the consistent results my “Lean In Legacy Template” can help you attain with even a brief and small motion toward others.  

I am really excited about how using it as a consistent formula is bringing about consistent results in my life.  "Leaning in" was the golden thread back story of our Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations!

Each and everyone present brought a willingness to Lean In into the process. That's why it worked!

This is the way to a simple magic you can do!

Its baseline is in your “not seeing enemies” where none truly exist, bringing about results beyond the ordinary, a simple “can do” magic.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Front Stories, Back Stories

This article is also posted in its entirety on the New Horizons' Small "Zones of Peace" Project site. Also see other related articles at Coffee House Conversations.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” so the saying goes. On the other hand, it might take a thousand words and more to make a picture. Even then that picture is likely to be far from complete.

If nothing else the golden thread in the picture to the right, binding a group of people together, especially of mixed races and ethnicity, for an afternoon of conversations on race and police relations and leaving with a bit of hope in this day and age will not easily be seen.

In that picture you are not likely to see that golden thread. But it is there as I formally welcome participants to the New Horizons’ sponsored Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations. It is in me and it is in the others present who came with a yearning in the deepest parts of themselves, searching for an unknown something better – and believing that it exists somewhere.

The event was held Saturday, January 31 in Frederick, Maryland. It was the first of five scheduled to be held by the end of June. Throughout that meeting space at the Dublin Roasters Coffee, I am told, some people did see/feel the magic. I am quite certain it was there in all of us, if even only in the smallest of karats. I saw it most in the goodwill toward one another that filled our space.

I know what I saw. I know what I felt. And, I know the agenda operating throughout, the intent of our non-profit for these programs to create this ambiance; a touch of hope and inspiration, if nothing else. So I know I was not merely introducing an event.  I was opening the door to a process geared toward advancing community unity to a level of inspiration.

We may look back to this day as a beginning of greater understanding, caring and compassion but hopefully there will be no end to what we are setting in motion.

I also know that before we are even half-way through this initial series I, too, will be sharing my personal stories. Their poignancy and occasional humor will impact others as their stories are already impacting me. In each of us are prayers that in taking up this adventure we may come a bit closer to “making violence obsolete,” a vision our Beloved community development mentor, Murat Yagan, implanted in my mind.

I know this is an ideal. I realize I am unlikely to even live to witness our coming close to it. A brief survey of today’s news tells me immediately how fanciful is the ideal. But I believe in magic. And I know that Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that was not so dissimilar, based on the philosophies and practices of Mahatma Gandhi. Many of us are coming together now to realize this dream. This is what called us together on Saturday, January 31 at Dublin Roasters Coffee.

The specific initiative of New Horizons Support Network, Inc.,  the Small “Zones of Peace” Project, that is behind this Coffee House Conversations program, in fact comes from Gandhi’s words –

“We do best to begin by carving out territories or zones of peace in our personal relations where violence and deceit won’t be used.”

The Small “Zones of Peace” Project strives to build”territories” based on this principle through a community enrichment model we have developed called the “Exceptional Community Model.” Coffee House Conversations are one of its several programs. Storytelling is an essential component.

As the day advanced the room full of people shared bits and pieces of their personal stories. In doing this we were taking steps toward one another with the hope of greater understanding, caring and compassion as a desired destination. With storytelling as a backdrop we are also intent on finding creative solutions to local problems through overall general community dialogue.

Thousands upon thousands of words and stories must be told before we achieve our aim. It will take that time and more for each of us to get the full picture of who those “others” are and to honor each with respect and a brotherly/sisterly love.

Front stories and back stories will enter our forum. It has already begun.

One attendee told me after the event that she came away from it with a heightened realization that Frederick Maryland is truly her home and it just must be exceptional!  She has that much invested in it. Listening to the stories she heard and sharing some of her own brought this yearning closer to a reality.

We have a way to go to realize her dreams and ours. Yet we have made a good start.  Most impactful from the day seemed to be the willingness to work well together to find new and higher ground in this challenging world of ours. And to be able to develop heartfelt connections through the storytelling exchanges.

The courage this took was touching to witness.

Personally I came away from this first Coffee House Conversation realizing that one of the best things I can do is start listening more carefully than I have never done before to the tales participants so trustingly offer of their often anguished experiences.  We have a far way to travel if Coffee House Conversations on Race Relations in Frederick County, Maryland are to succeed at their objectives; healing the wounds that divide us and building a greater unity through that process.

I have a dream that this new project can become a county-wide effort. And that, over time, New Horizons and I may be around to, at least, get to experience more and more small “zones of peace” in Frederick County, Maryland.

Now a few weeks since our first Coffee House Conversation I have already begun to find a wealth of untold riches in the stories I am listening to from new people in my life because of our “zones of peace” initiative. In particular I have opened myself to listening to the stories of young or relatively youthful African American men; tales of growing up black in a dominantly white community.

I am often challenged by these stories. Their implications are huge, their pain sometimes nearly unfathomable. Yet I am grateful that I have been gifted with the skills, experience and determination that even my own “Lean in Legacy Template” provides me as a formula to keep moving toward rather than away.

I share these words with you now with a bit of trepidation that you will judge me for speaking of magic where so much is yet to be done. And so much tragedy has already been caused. But I have struggled for two weeks since the event to put into words what I observed and felt of this experience. The faith I have in the process I know like my face, in myself and in those who shared this experience with me gave me these words to best share what we have only just begun.

Front stories, back stories. This is my story today.

Thank you all who came together with me for Coffee House Conversations on Race Relations in Frederick Maryland on January 31, 2015.