Even with all of its science-fiction plot twists, 2020 has made it clear how precarious and precious our time is together. There have been so many complex issues to focus on this year, it was very easy to get lost in the sensationalism, misdirection and fear. Our natural desire for hope and truth can get turned around and, in our frustration, we may lose a piece of our humanity.
I have noticed that one of the byproducts of our collective frustration during this time of pandemic, political upheaval and seeming divide, is the increasing tendency towards a one-strike policy of disqualification for people who blunder in the public eye.
If I am being honest with myself, I must acknowledge that my own reactions on a daily basis can be far from perfect and I could easily be disqualified from trying to make the world a better place.
Most recently, I sat in the seat of judgment while creating a music video called, Jolly Olde England. After some deliberation, I decided to remove JK Rowling from my long-standing lyric and replace her with the more consistently marvelous Helen Mirren. Ultimately, this was due to the controversy of Ms. Rowling speaking out against the transgender community.
While I am saddened by her continued choices in this vein, and have replaced JK in my song, I didn’t take her out of my heart and do not discount her ability to come around. After all, the heroes from her Harry Potter series, showed us that those who have been rejected for their differences are the very ones who can save the day. If she is capable of writing this message, she may also be capable of being able to see past her current bias.
“Being different isn’t a bad thing. I means you’re brave enough to be yourself.” – J.K. Rowling
“We should know by now that the most exact, most precise representation of the human heart is the labyrinth. And where the human heart is involved, anything is possible.”- José Saramago
Has the prejudice she showed the transgender community come from a wrong turn within the labyrinth of her heart? Is this merely a temporary dead end? Have the articles I read about her being a survivor of domestic and sexual assault helped me understand her point of view and have compassion for her? Is there still room for change and understanding? Is there really time to delve into every single issue of each person that has been ostracized while I continue to stay productive, dodge the pandemic, pay the bills, and tune into the welfare of my loved ones and the world? The truth is the complexity of every issue is such that it cannot be pared down to a tweet or slogan. And if we don’t have the time to investigate, can we afford to come to a snap judgment that closes our hearts?
My father had the uncanny ability to look at each person and situation from 360 degrees, while being consciously rooted in an ethical foundation. I must admit that is a gift I aspire to, but have certainly not mastered.
It was easier to replace JK with Helen Mirren with a simple stoke of the pen. I know in my heart, however, that she should not be shunned or prevented from making the arc that her characters were able to make towards improving their humanity.
My wife Julia and I just finished an online production called, Raise Your Glass to Charles Dickens, that celebrates the author who dedicated his life to championing the underserved and cheerleading our humanity, with as, Morton Dauwen Zabel said, “all of our complexity and promise.” Mr. Dickens showed, in great detail, the underbelly of our nature, while never losing faith in the regenerative spirit that raises us up above our baseness into our ability to change.
The fact that old Charles was susceptible to the prejudice of the times, as displayed in the anti-Semitic portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist, shows that he was not above the bedevilment of spirit that his characters also struggled with. All too human, he was an adulterer and, by some reports, a bad father and husband.
And yet, his books point to the value each of us have, beyond the caste that society projects onto us. They demonstrate, time and again, there is a way through the mire of our shortcomings, and the maze that beats in our breast.
Writing each other off may seem like the moral thing to do; a way to protest intolerance and injustice. It may make us feel like better people, following the precept, “Bad company ruins good morals.”
While I agree with ol’ Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, that, “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best,” we have to be instrumental in cultivating those qualities in ourselves so that we can nurture and attract that kind of company around us. We may become so zealous in weeding our particular garden that we inadvertently take out all the flowers. Even those who “uplift us and call forth our best,” have bad days and are subject to poor judgment.
It can seem convenient to invalidate one another from this race we are all a part of, but it actually makes our journey much harder. It is just as easy to place each other on pedestals as it is to knock those podiums down. I am not talking about individuals who have continued to perpetuate suffering and injustice without remorse or acknowledging the harm they have done.
Yet, each of us is a paradox, a compendium of light and shadow, subject to the complexity of our own personnel history and the collective knots that obstruct and entangle our way through the world.
In his documentary, Stay Human, Michael Franti, a literal giant and humanitarian force for compassionate joy, revealed that his music and positive outlook rise above his personal struggles with depression. In the film, he said that our challenge is not Left vs Right but optimism vs cynicism in regards to our humanity. He has a song in which he sings, “The world is so f#*@ed up, but I am never giving up on it.”
He also sings:
“So, don’t you give up on me
And I won’t give up on you.
And do you have faith in me?
Cause you know that I still believe
In what we’ve got.
One love, one life, throw your hands up high
Cause all that I’m trying to do
Is stay human with you.”- Michael Franti
Although our hearts may be a labyrinth that winds through the world’s duplicity, we still have the ability to elevate our perspective, to gain insight to make our way through. We may even find that, in being willing to stay human and forgive one another, we have helped to clear our own path.
In dealing with one another, forgiveness may be a hard thing to put into practice but, along with gratitude, it may be the best compass to help us navigate into 2021.