‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without it you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.’ -Maya Angelou
I’m thinking a lot about this quote and the idea it contains today.
Last night we elected a man to lead our country who I find to be dangerous. And I’m a white, middle class male. I can’t imagine the fear that my darker skinned brothers and sisters are feeling right now. I identify with them and I agree with them and I vote with them, but I am disciplined in acknowledging always that I am not in their shoes. I cannot have their perspective, even if I empathize with it. I am not the father of little girls nor am I a woman. I’m a native English speaking American and don’t have to fear being rounded up. I advocate for the disabled, both professionally and personally and I’m not them, watching a man openly mock an actual person with a disability, bullying him while doing his job from the podium with flags flying and crowds cheering and guffawing. I’m an advocate, but I’m protected.
I’m from the disaffected, largely white area of the country that would appear to have given the Presidency to Donald Trump. I know that the people that voted for him see something other than a dangerous, white supremacist, misogynistic monster. From my angle I’m afraid that that thing they saw allowed them to think they were supporting someone of virtue. Someone who would prioritize them without hurting others. I fear that they similarly can’t see what this feels like to fellow, hard working Americans with skin darker than theirs. Or the hard working immigrant families who’ve sacrificed whole lives, whole histories and all social standing to come to the place where hope lived only to find it lead by a man threatening to deport, insisting on building a wall and enthusiastically able to belittle and dismiss the sacrifice of families who’ve lost loved ones in defense of our highest ideals.
I don’t have any idea what I can do but stand up and try to find a sliver of light in the dark where I can try to send love through. It’s hard to listen when you are afraid. I am afraid. But it’s incredibly important to listen. I will try. I’m pretty sure I’ll fail a lot of the time, but i will keep trying.
What I do see is there is a lot of anger. There is a lot of fear. The air has been thick with it for years. My instincts in this moment are awful. I want to scream. I want to yell and lash out and blanket the land in judgment. It would feel good to do that. The fights that would ensue would make me feel like I was doing something. But I’d be working against the solutions we need. The fact is that this is a time that demands virtue. You can’t defeat the dark without light. You can’t address fear with fear. Anger will not go away with louder anger.
Patience. Love. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy.
These are the virtues we are lacking. There are real world problems that require real world answers. Yes. But if we can’t hear each other, if we can’t understand and empathize with the real fears than we can’t even begin the difficult conversations we need to have. We can’t ever learn to understand why something so confounding, how something so terrifying ever could have happened. I’m scared, I truly am. For me to overcome it’s going to take courage. It’s going to take courage to be patient. To listen. To try to reseed humanity, whatever tiny little portion of it I can effect with love.
There’s work to do. We must shine light into darkness. We must stay curious. We must seek out hate and counter it with love. We must find fear and meet it with empathy. We must meet anger head on and do whatever we can to show people compassion and love.
We must have courage and exercise our virtues. This is a time for our better angels to reveal themselves.