This past week was mired in heartache, on a personal level for various private reasons, and of course, on a national level. Baton Rouge. St. Paul. And my beloved home during my childhood, Dallas, TX.
I think the root of so much of this violence and inequity is fear. Black citizens are afraid of police officers. Police officers are afraid of black citizens. (Dallas citizen Kellon Nixon articulates it much better than I; please give the video a watch. It inspired this post.) That's what racism - conscious or unconscious - is. That's why we use the word "homophobia" to describe discrimination or hate against gay people. Homophobic people feel their own sense of normality and the way the world should be is threatened by this reality wherein it's okay for two men or two women to love each other, and that fear leads to hate.
Like with any extreme, though, there exists its opposite, and there have been heartwrenchingly beautiful moments of connection and peace in the midst of the division and violence. Protestors from opposite movements crossing lines and embracing. Police officers and Black Lives Matters leaders and protestors having respectful and caring dialogue, or marching together (as in Dallas, before the protest turned deadly). Stories of kindnesses, and strangers reaching out to each other in their grief.
I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a police officer. To undergo the constant stress of risking your life and putting yourself in harms way every single day. I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a black American - to continually see videos of unjust police shootings, and live in a society where so many fellow black citizens are incarcerated disproportionate to whites, and a thousand small everyday injustices and inequities in between. But I am a citizen of this country, and so I've been grappling with and trying to wrap my head and heart around all of this to see how we can cope.
One thing I've learned as a yoga teacher, doula, and student of my wonderful prenatal mentor, is that the opposite of fear is love. Fear produces adrenaline; love produces oxytocin. One produces the "fight or flight" sympathetic response; the other produces what some call a "tend and befriend" parasympathetic response.
How do we overcome fear? We look it straight in the face. We get to know it. We educate ourselves. Movements progress through dialogue and connection and common ground with your counterparts. On the small scale, it's reaching out and talking. Hate speech and violence perpetuate the problem, dig people deeper into their entrenched beliefs, narrow their blinders, and either affects no change or makes things worse - usually both.
My mom told me this week that life is all about change. That's all it is. Yoga teaches us that nothing is permanent. As Lin-Manuel Miranda so poignantly put it - "nothing here is promised; not one day."
On a smaller level, the change we should first and foremost be enacting is within ourselves and to our neighbors. Especially in New York, where the order of the day is to avoid eye contact with everyone you encounter on your commute - make a connection. Even a moment of eye contact and a slight smile. Be an agent of peace and love. Speak out against racism even when it's uncomfortable. Be kind.
It's oft-quoted to the point of cliche, but Ghandi's, "Be the change you want to see in the world," has never rung more true for me than during these violent and unkind days. Focus on those kindnesses you see in the news alongside the tragedies that also rightly demand our focus. Then do it, and be it. That's how I see getting through this, and I hope many more join.