I’m sad, mad, heartbroken and confused. And I’m frightened. Just like my clients, family, and neighbors I’m asking myself what to do? What to do?
I haven’t figured out great answers. And not figuring out answers really pisses me off. I’m used to having answers, and I have great skills for finding answers. So not figuring it out is frustrating and frightening.
What I have figured out, is that there is much cruelty around us. Marginalization and harassment is cruelty. Bullying and oppression is cruelty. And George Floyd’s murder is cruelty. That wasn’t justice, it was cruel. It’s one thing for a cop to restrain someone, I get that, but it’s another thing to hold someone until they go limp and choke to death. Cruelty is behavior that causes pain or suffering; but it’s also callous indifference to that pain and suffering. Cruelty shows up as racism, and also as anti-Semitism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and bigotry.
As a Jew, my DNA is laced with millennia of cruel persecution, harassment, and organized efforts to kill and eliminate my ancestors and family. I’m not alone in this. So are African Americans, Gypsies, Gays, Palestinians, Rohingya, and a painfully long list of targeted populations. Some cruel people act alone, some act in groups. And right here in the USA there is systemic cruelty in legal, educational, and financial systems.
No doubt you believe that you’d do something to stop cruel behavior. No doubt you’d stand up for yourself and others. But you’re likely deluding yourself. Marianne LaFrance, Yale psychology professor, asked a group of women, "How would you feel if you had a job interview and someone asked you really sexist, ugly questions?"
Almost everyone answered the way you and I would, something like: "I would walk out. I would give the person hell." So she tested people. Her team set up interviews (the positions were attractive, but the jobs were fake), and interviewees were asked several sexist, ugly questions. Every one of the women interviewees was just silent. Every. One. Was. Silent.
How we believe we’ll behave, and how we actually behave in stressful, cruel, and demeaning situations are not the same. People behave much more meekly in reality than in their minds. And cruelty spreads and normalizes with each instance that we accept and tolerate. With each silent acceptance of pain and suffering we increase the presence of cruelty.
I’ve already said I don’t have great answers. But here’s what I’m thinking about and doing, and what I’m inviting you to think about and do with me.
Say something. I’m not willing to be a complicit participant when I see or hear cruelty. Meanness in the office, bullying in politics, and racism in the streets are cruel actions. Every silence emboldens the cruel. I can speak up with courage, yes. But I can also speak up from love, and I can speak up from my values of compassion, service, and collaboration.
Feel the shame. My feelings are guides and indicators. Feeling shame and remorse are signaling that there is a better version of me waiting to come forward. I won’t drown my shame and regret in rationalization or denial. Rather, these feeling marinate in my psyche and call forward my best self.
Don’t be cruel. I won’t cause pain and suffering to people around me. How can I tell? I watch people’s reactions to me. I will be more curious about their experience of me. I commit to not act with anger, malice, sarcasm, or bullying.
Black Lives Matter. I acknowledge the systemic cruelty of racism and am getting educated about the history and impact of slavery and oppression. Saying "all lives matter" is more denial. Yes, all lives matter, but we have to emphasize returning black lives to equality and dignity.
Vote. Trump is a cruel man who perpetuates cruelty. I’m not a registered Republican, but I’m aligned with some fiscal Republican positions. But Trump’s cruelty in his conduct and speech is perpetrating and perpetuating cruelty. There are better leaders to follow and emulate.
Practice love. I feel love, and I also practice love behaviors. Specifically, I practice compassion – doing something to relieve another’s suffering, and I practice deep listening – giving my full attention to someone.
I wish that every human brother and sister reach their potential and realize their dreams. And I wish that we all rise in consciousness and spiritual clarity. And this much I do know, the markers of spiritual evolution are never cruelty and oppression, the markers of spiritual evolution are always kindness and inclusion.
In the spirit of leading, learning, and loving.
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