What a month! Seems like I’ve started just about every post here lately with a similar exclamation, but the impact of the current moment just keeps growing. WU Editorial Director Therese Walsh wrote a piece to start the month in which she reminded us that we are witnessing history. She made the case that “history is written by the writers,” which I fully embrace.
As someone who identifies first and foremost as a writer, I feel I have a responsibility to use my voice—to express my perspective, my concerns, my hopes and fears. I don’t know how anyone who’s paying attention can remain unmoved. The outpouring sparked by the murder of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street, in the full view of the world, feels like nothing short of a national reckoning; a moment from which there can be no looking away, no turning back.
Although I feel the responsibility to use my voice, I also feel it’s important to recognize that I am a middle-aged white male. Demographically, I sit squarely within the group that has historically remained the biggest obstruction to real societal change in the form of inclusion and equal justice.
Acknowledging My Privilege
I had a typical suburban upbringing, fairly detached and sheltered. We were walking-distance to our elementary school and a huge bucolic park, for little league baseball and winter sledding. Our fridge was always well-stocked, and we were served a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
I was never drafted nor called to serve my country in war. I was given a car to drive on my sixteenth birthday, and another to drive to college. My parents paid my college tuition and helped out with my rent throughout my years there.
Of my dozen-or-so encounters with law enforcement, most entailed me being pulled over for traffic violations. During these incidents I have felt several things: incredulous, chagrined, and even confused (as in, “what was I doing wrong, officer?”).
But never once was I afraid.
The worst I ever expected was a ticket. I never once felt the need to keep my hands in plain view (to assure that I wasn’t reaching for a weapon or hiding something). Never once did I imagine that I might encounter excessive force. Let alone that my life might be in danger if I made the wrong move, said the wrong thing.
I’m embarrassed to admit that it was fairly late in life that I even began to recognize that, in their encounters with law enforcement, far too many of my fellow Americans don’t share the luxury of this lack of concern or fear.
I relay all of this because I think it’s vital to acknowledge where each of us is starting from before we can even begin to seek our true selves. I also feel it’s only through seeking my true self that can I responsibly use my voice.
The Necessity of Empathy
I’ve written here before about the empathy that’s naturally bestowed by the writing life. In this post from 2017, I even refer to it as a gift. Not that my stance has changed. But I’ve come to see empathy as being beyond a natural byproduct of the venture, and more as a necessary acquisition—a needed skill for finding our way to our best work. I see empathy not just as a virtue to passively accumulate, but one for which we should strive and work to strengthen.
The pursuit helps me to better appreciate the name of this community. [Read more…]