Will We Survive or Perish? (Part 2 of 2)

Our deepest challenge may be learning how to live with each other.

Posted Sep 10, 2020

In Part 1 of this article, I introduce the idea that conversations and coming together—no matter how painful or scary—are necessary for true, systemic change to take place. Unless we can speak to each other and listen, we cannot possibly create a future where all are heard. 

Valerie Kaur states that “deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.” We must listen, and we must speak and be heard. Both are necessary for true change. "Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence,” Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, ”when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

We need each other. Everyone—regardless of who they are—needs an identity they can feel proud of, an experience of community, a sense of purpose, and to feel empowered. We all must have a place at the table if we are to change the system, and systemic change is not possible unless we all contribute to it and understand the needs, experiences, history, and life of everyone in it. Through that conversation, we are all transformed, and a true, new reality can be created.

As Tehila Friedman of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) recently said, “Some groups and communities have principles, values, and behaviors that I oppose with a passion, some of them actually threaten me... But I remember and know that in every one of those groups, truly in every one...there are also those who understand that our differences are not temporary, that we are fated to live together and that this is the challenge of our lives... those from all the communities who understand this challenge of living together, to restore the power from the fringes that drive us crazy, to create a shared center.”

She went on to say, “I speak softly, I know, and you might make the mistake of thinking my message comes from a soft and accommodating center. But it’s the opposite. My center is a preexisting center, a fervent center, that is unwilling to compromise on its centrism, on its responsibility for all the residents of the country, on the room it has for all who truly want to live together, that puts limits on extremism and selfishness, a center able to sacrifice its own life on the altar of moderation, of democracy... a center that defends bodily the rules of the game that enable us to have an argument without falling to pieces.”

When Daryl Davis, an African American musician, decided to have conversations with members of the KKK, eventually, the men he was befriending handed over their robes to him and resigned from the group. He reports, “the most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else, you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me, I've heard things so extreme at these rallies they'll cut you to the bone. Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don't challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way, chances are, they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart.”

If the goal is a loving community, sustainability, and respect for all people and nature, then we must choose a path that creates that future. If there is a way forward in the creation of a global system whose basis is love and compassion for all humans, animals, and the Earth, then it must include all of us. As Valerie Kaur so eloquently writes, “The same supremacist ideologies that justified colonialism—the conquest, rape, massacre, and enslavement of black and brown people around the globe—those same ideologies justify industries that accumulate wealth by pillaging the Earth, poisoning the waters, and darkening the skies. Global temperatures climb, seas rise, storms intensify, fires rage. Humanity itself is in transition. Will we marshal the vision, skill, and solidarity to solve these problems together, or will we perish?” 

The answer to that question is up to us all. And perhaps the way forward has already been charted for us by the great leaders that came before us.

In the words of John Lewis, “Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time, don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

It is up to all of us to create that Beloved Community, and it's a community that must include everyone.