Life Matters

comments 28
Reflections

A few weeks ago I had to make a somewhat rare journey out of the house to visit a construction site for work. On the ride back I pulled off the highway to fuel-up. Across the street from the gas station, I discovered a microcosm of the absurd times in which we are living: on one corner was a miniature Trump rally, in which an African American man was holding up an “All Lives Matter” sign. He was shouting through traffic at a small “Black Lives Matter” rally that was taking place on the next corner.

Yup…

Wait for it.

Four or five white people, mostly young women I believe, were holding up “Black Lives Matter” signs and being shouted down by a black man old enough to be their father. They were shouting back of course. Because, yeah… Why not? If you’re not shouting after all, you’re losing. I’ve never seen a clearer demonstration of just how convoluted (and failed) our dialogue as a society has become.

In my post about Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout, I wrote the paragraph below:

“When we look closely at it, as closely as we can, we find that the center of blackness, as of whiteness, and of every other –ness we would discern, is our tragic inability as humans to hold difference and sameness together. This failure is the essential human handicap. We’ve failed to recognize that both are part of being human, and that each is necessary to the other—that we, in all of our colors and shapes and sizes, can only truly possess our humanity when our uniqueness and our commonality are respected as treasures equally worth preserving.”

And nowhere was this failure more obvious to me than in this scene of a black Trump supporter engaged in a shouting match with these white women, across four lanes of traffic, who in theory were advocating for him. Maybe they eventually got on the same corner and had a chat. I don’t know. That would have been interesting. An actual conversation. But our entire society seems to be based on the notion that a conversation is a skirmish over territory, not a chance to be understood and to understand. So long as that continues we’re doomed.

The issue of life mattering is really not that complicated. Life matters. Period. And not just human life. Life. The life of the seas, the life of the skies, the life on the ground, and the life in the ground. And of course, black lives matter—this must be acknowledged. One fallacy is thinking that black lives mattering in a way that is unique to the experience of being black, (in the United States, which is where I am writing from), somehow subtracts from the way that any other life matters. It doesn’t. But nor can the reality of being black in this time and place be subtracted either. We can’t dismiss the uniqueness of the various vantages that live in each of us. We screw this all up when we think only one of these simultaneous truths must “trump” the other.

At the same time, if our appreciation for the uniqueness of experience stops at race, and fails to accommodate the profound diversity of individual experience, then it is utterly misguided. Because to presume that every person who shares a common physical trait is party to the same comprehensive personal experience is shallow and foolish. I am white and my adopted sister is black. (My other adopted sister is Korean by birth.) My “black” sister has suffered for being raised by white parents. She has been ostracized by some individuals in the African American community who didn’t, or don’t, see her as legitimate. Not all black people mind you. She’s been ostracized by white people, too. Again, not all of them. Did I mention that we’re all unique? Consider the black man I witnessed holding up an All Lives Matter sign amidst his chosen community of six or seven people toting Make America Great Again signs. Does he speak for black people everywhere? Clearly the roots of individual experience transcend a common trait.

Then there is the truth, which we seem to be losing sight of, that we are all human after all. We are each one another’s own. We belong to each other. The notion that a person of one race cannot understand a person of another race, should they truly desire to do so, is a caustic sentiment that defiles the sacred truth of our commonality as human beings. I have been working on a novel about a character who has a Native American mother and a Creole father, and one professional editor who I asked to review a few chapters cautioned me that it could be unfit for publication simply on the basis of the fact that I am white, and the protagonist is not. This editor wanted, conscientiously, to warn me about a potential difficulty I’d face. I appreciated the concern, but this difficulty is more of the same. I’ve been encouraged to have some black people read it before I go any further. I guess my question is: which ones?

It reminds me of the way a predominately white America sought to negotiate with the indigenous nations that preceded them on this continent. Who is in charge? this rampaging America asked. Surely a treaty signed with Red Cloud would bind all Lakota, right? Well I’m not a historian, but my understanding is that such a notion probably took many Native Americans by surprise, because their society was much more loosely organized than ours. Individuals, and bands of individuals, enjoyed a considerable autonomy within the greater structure of the nation. They didn’t have a President. (Nor, I would argue, did they need one. At least until it became necessary to become a military industrial complex with a hierarchical command structure capable of mobilizing an entire population against the might and glory of America.)

The bottom line is that uniqueness and commonality exist at every level of existence and genuine healing involves acknowledging this. Two people of the same race ought to be permitted to be unique individuals, just as two people of the same race ought to be able to share the bond of a common experience that people of another race have not had, just as all those people and anyone who wishes to join them ought to be permitted to merge hearts and share in the power, beauty, grief, and sorrow of being human, regardless of race or experience. I’m a firm believer that where the desire is sincere, we can comprehend one another, at least to our mutual satisfaction.

The loss of appreciation for any of the myriad truths that stitch our world together breeds fruitless conflict—shouting matches that are expressions of pain, not efforts at understanding. And the thing is: we’re all carriers of pain… but also of hope and love. We all need and deserve mutual respect and consideration. There are many policies we could discuss, and I think they’re all worth discussing, but without the root desire to empower, acknowledge, honor and appreciate one another—in all our idiosyncrasies and commonalities—these will be of limited value. It’s true that if you’re forced into a fight, you need a weapon. But I’d like us to end the fight. And policy won’t do it, because no policy can accomplish the work of the heart. But if the deeper work is done, the policies that express our concern for one another will arise.

28 Comments

  1. Thanks Michael for gracing us with new material and sharing a personal post. We must be on similar wavelengths because I just published a post about harmony and division. How can we hold difference and commonality at the same time? How can we love those who don’t like our ideas or have strikingly different life experiences?

    I hope you and your family are well and that your novel continues to progess.It sounds cool to me!

    much peace, Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Linda. I will swing by to check out your post and our common wavelength! The novel is percolating along, and I work on it when I can. It is drafted. I am doing edits now and putting the things together that are needed to send it out a few places and see what happens. This is the one I began back when you did that reading for me!

      I hope you are well, too, Linda! Enjoy this beautiful fall day–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said Michael 🙏 Them and Us are We. Dialogues for understanding, shared experiences and education are key. It’s the next generation and the next that can bring about the change we all desperately need to save the planet and ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Val! I’m hoping every generation present can contribute to the needed transformations. I suspect everyone alive right now is in the maelstrom whether this is fully understood or not. Things seem to be happening very fast now… It seems impossible what is happening can simply be sustained. It is like a tug of forces exquisitely balanced, but when the balance is broken it will all collapse or something. I don’t know. That’s just an analogy. But some compassion and understanding would help tremendously in catching us all when the rope breaks!

      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for a heartfelt and insightful look at the sad state of discourse in our world. All life matters and we humans need to wake up our hearts, learn how to communicate and embrace diversity. May sanity prevail

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Michael,
    I suppose that in hindsight some of the “Black Lives Matter” people are kicking themselves for not adding the “too” term at the end of their slogan. Of course hindsight is 20/20. But shall such an explicit addition be made at this late hour? Or shall that element be left implicit? And are such clarifications at least being made explicitly otherwise? I’m not sure.
    Anyway I wonder if you see any problem with the following explicit refinement of your own assertion. This is to say “All sentient lives matter”. Thus in itself plant life should not “matter”, but rather only to the extent that it affects sentient life. Or another way of saying this is “Qualia matters”. I consider this to be the most amazing element to existence, or an effective definition for the consciousness term itself.
    So does such a modification seem reasonable to you, or would you rather leave the question essentially as open as “All biological processes matter”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Eric,

      Thanks for reading and responding. I don’t know about your first notion. I suppose adding the word, “too” at the end of the slogan sounds more inclusive, but if you’re trying to assert that black lives matter at all, it’s probably stronger without it. Black lives matter. Period. Which I understand. It’s one of the several truths that form the knot we’re collectively disentangling…

      As to your proposed refinement–stating that “All sentient lives matter,”–it’s not one I would espouse really. My view of reality is that there’s nothing that is not part of Life. Reality is Whole, first and foremost, and attempts to partition it or cordon it off into segments is not something I would wish to try and do around this topic.

      There are several reasons. This is off the cuff, so perhaps with more time I might add or subtract from it, but first off I don’t embrace the distinction that has become prevalent in our time, of dividing matter into living and non-living segments. I get why this is done. But in other cultures stones, mountains and rivers are very much living beings, and I think this is so in ways a mechanistic view of the world cannot comprehend. In my heart, I’m aligned with the notion that everything is sacred, from the pebble on the beach to the blackhole at the center of the galaxy. So there is nothing I could say “doesn’t matter.” This notion wasn’t the focus of the post, but it’s part of my broader view.

      Second, I think even if one wishes to suggest such a view is false–that mountains and rivers don’t really have a presence, or a life, or a spirit, and that this is just a sentimental notion–one must still deal with the profound interconnections that exist between all things. And so there is nothing that “doesn’t matter” even from a more mechanistic perspective, because reality is deeply interpenetrating and interwoven. It simply is true that the quality of our lives is related to the quality of the world around us.

      So I wouldn’t be too keen on trying to further qualify or condition the notion of what matters. I’d probably expand it. What is missing, and what matters, is our relationship to the world around us. When we don’t have a relationship with something, whatever it is, we tend to make mistakes in our interactions with it. By mistake, I mean we cause unnecessary harm, suffering or difficulty. But when we are in relationship with everything, we may understand how to navigate the accomplishment of what must be done. It’s not that we can never dig in the ground because we’ll disturb habitat of a worm, but it’s a respect for the fact that there is give and take in everything we do. And there’s a way to move forward that is rooted in respect, and a way to move forward that is rooted in dismissing certain things as not mattering. And the latter has been the way of things for far too long I think…

      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

      • Okay Michael, I actually feel a bit the same given my naturalism. I believe that everything “matters” in the sense that I believe that everything functions by means of causal dynamics. But that’s just me defining the term in a way that’s different from how I was previously using it. Terms are arbitrary, though the point of them is for effective communication and thought.

        Anyway if all things “matter”, doesn’t this make the case that things should generally lose their specialness? In that case then black lives shouldn’t matter any more than waves in the ocean should. For “matter” to signify something at all different or special, it seems to me that some things should be defined to matter more than others do. Any thoughts on what might matter more and less? Or shall we just say that everything matters and so it’s all the same as the rest?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Eric,

          I can’t say I am overly interested in trying to make these types of distinctions. I think you are at some level missing one of the key elements of my post, which perhaps was not very clear. That point is that there are several things that are simultaneously true.

          In the context of all things existing in unity, then no, the wave and the Irish American and the calico cat do not matter more or less than one another. But in the context of all things existing in unity, the effort to make such a distinction is sort of meaningless. They express the same ultimate reality. They are unified. There is no ground to speak of them as if they are unrelated, or exist apart from one another.

          But it doesn’t mean they do not express the same ultimate reality in unique ways. So it is also true that they have differentiated from one another through the creative process of coming into being. To say that a black woman is special and a wave is not, is to impose some sort of value system onto two unique expressions of reality that doesn’t apply. What is there to compare between a wave and a human being? A wave can be a perfect wave as a human can be a perfect human and they are each uniquely formed, and uniquely suited, to represent the qualities of ultimate reality they each express.

          You wrote, Or shall we just say that everything matters and so it’s all the same as the rest? As if everything mattering means it’s all the same, and it patently is not. The question is why does something matter. And something matters because it is an expression of Life, of Being, of Truth. Whatever you wish to call the singularity of ultimate reality. So everything matters because it is sacred. It is alive. It is a movement of the very same energy and being that we are a movement of. But this type of “mattering” has nothing whatsoever to do with what a thing “is good for,” for instance, which is an idea at the heart of our self-destructive tendencies. So what that an Asian woman can cook better than an oak tree can? She matters not because of what she can do, but because of what makes her real. She matters because of who she is.

          Our uniqueness is related to how we each express the common reality of which we each partake, in different ways. So our value is a given. That we matter, is a given. Our uniqueness is how we explore the infinite terrain of being, how we make the unknown known in perpetually new ways. There are no two people perfectly alike. That we are all people does not mean nobody matters because we’re all the same. As I said in the previous, we matter because we exist.

          Both things are true: we share a common heart of being, and we are unique expressions of that heart. That we all related to the same Whole unifies us. That each of us enjoy a unique relationship to the Whole differentiates us. And both are true at once. And both matter.

          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

          • If that was one of the key elements of your post Michael, then no I wasn’t aware of it. Perhaps others who know you better didn’t need it to be spelled out so explicitly. Anyway it’s fine with me if we see things differently in this regard. Though I doubt we’re close enough for debate to move either of us, friendly discussions such as this one do tend to help us express and personally test our various beliefs.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Michael, this is absolutely brilliant writing on a topic that has sadly become distorted. There’s nothing more I can really say than keep writing – the words and the content – are beyond excellent.
    While I have you, I guess I will take a chance to add my two Canadian pennies. I believe that if we were all just kind to each other, I mean to every person we meet and even those we don’t then I think we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in. Maybe it’s not that simple, OR, maybe it is.
    Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hey Harlon,

      Hope you are well. Thanks for writing and for the kind words. I really appreciate it, and I’m on-board with your kindness approach. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that to be honest… I guess I would just add that the sort of kindness I think we both envision–correct me if I am mistaken–includes not just things like holding doors or smiling in the checkout aisle, but also anticipating how our words and actions may affect others. So part of kindness may involve being sensitive to the conditions those around us may be in, and trying to meet them in a “kind way” based on the content of the moment… It’s a powerful practice, this kindness! It may be all we need…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I love to read your thoughts. We are all so perfect. And so flawed. I find myself doing more rejoicing than anything else these days. We will muddle through, even with all the shouting. Something good will arise from all of this I am sure. But first the deluge apparently.
    Much love
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Alison. You said it perfectly: we’re perfect and flawed at once. Perfectly flawed. Haha. Yes I know we’ll muddle through and I do believe something good will come of this. It has already in various ways, even as we stumble through this strangely imperfect time!

      Much love to you (and Don) as well,
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So happy to land here today, Michael! Reading your post and subsequent comments is just what the doctor ordered. It feels like a place of truth…something that stands out amongst all of the fighting and nastiness that seems to pervade the landscape of late. These are trying times, but I can feel a seismic shift. And even though that shift sometimes feels off kilter…meaning that it feels we are moving further away from Love…I have to agree with Alison above, ‘that something good will arise from all of this.’
    I can’t imagine what you felt when you saw the scene you described. It is like people have decided that they must FIGHT at all costs. It doesn’t make sense. There is so much more I could add but it would be hijacking your space and to be honest I have to limit these kinds of thoughts because it changes my energy to be more like those that wish to cause discord and separation. It feels much better to think like Harlon and believe that love, kindness, and empathy can truly have an impact.
    I hope you are your family are doing the best you can during this pandemic. Stay safe…be well. It was really nice to see you today! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lorrie. I hope you are well! It wasn’t an awful scene by any stretch–both groups were having the experience they desired I think. It was serious and comical at the same time. Almost surreal. But neither group seemed particularly threatened or aggrieved by the opportunity enjoy some sport that afternoon.

      I think there is good both here and in the wings. I have no idea what will happen though! I don’t think any of us do. Feels like we’re in some kind of gateway between worlds or something. There is beauty and power. There is such strange madness and greed. It’s all at once and we’re all riding our various threads. Some walking peacefully through the storm… Some blown to and fro… Kindness helps everyone…

      Peace!
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  8. There is so much I love about this post. I love that you include life beyond human life – life in general matters. Diversity is important and beautiful. Our uniqueness and our commonality are treasures! My mind wonders why it’s hard for some people to see this. The mainstream media networks at the very least reinforce conflict and the mistaken idea that things have to be black or white. You’ve strengthened my desire to continue involvement with an organization called Braver Angels which seeks to depolarize America, help people listen to differing beliefs for the purpose of understanding, and seek common ground. I wonder how we get people to do that. Can’t subtle policies nudge people? I’m not talking about force, but maybe through education… I don’t know. Maybe what we can do is try to set a good example, write as you have, and encourage listening. I hope the people on the different sides of the street did get a chance to chat instead of shout. And I hope you move forward with the novel. I would think you could get some Native American people to read it as well as Black people – people from your desired audience? It’s great to be back. Your writing gives me hope that things can be different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi JoAnna,

      Depolarizing sounds like an eminently worthy cause. I agree! It requires the ability to acknowledge life is not cut and dry. It’s organic, uniquely individual and uniquely collective at the same time somehow. But there’s lots of room for reasonable sharing on things important to us without it being a debate between enemies!

      I’ve had a Native American friend read the novel, and she thought it was perfectly fine in terms of its treatment of the Native American characters. No group is monolithic, though! She thought some of my references to traditional Native American views–traditionalist in the sense of aligned with the traditional spiritual-cultural pathways–would be lost on some/many Native Americans today. So it’s all really interesting… who are we? Who am I?

      We’re just people hopefully learning to love one another and overcome our grievances and bitterness(es) along the way!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  9. galenpearl says

    What a well written post about a topic so charged and complex in current times, that the very thought of writing about it just overwhelms me. I end up walking away from the computer to go outside and practice internal martial arts until my head stops spinning. Along with the post, I especially appreciated your thoughtful responses to comments, expanding the dialogue and offering more to think about. I recently finished the book Caste — so powerful. I can’t think of anything that has so deeply shifted and unified my perspective. Anyway, thank you for the time and care that went into this post and the comments/responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Galen,

      Thank you so much for this note! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the subsequent discussions. I’m grateful for all the participation. It does so enrich the blogging experience, and the human experience as well I’d say. Is the book you’re recommending the one by Isabel Wilkerson? I will put it on the list to consider in the near future! Thank you for the recommendation. These topics are definitely far-reaching and complex. There’s no silver bullet for sure. Well… I think love and forgiveness are pretty darn good, but the remarkable thing is that until a person is ready for them, they say, “What do you mean? Show me an example?” And then you’re off to the races in some philosophical thought experiment discussion cum debate that is probably fraught with things we think we know, that are not necessarily so, and things we don’t know, but just trust our hearts to tell us. And the latter cannot be explained over with logic. And people are only prepared to accept these once they’re prepared to transform the logic at the center of their being! Which takes a miracle. Each and every time… 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

      • galenpearl says

        Yes, that is the book I referred to. I hope you will read it and write about it!

        Your response made me think of a quote attributed to St. Augustine — If you can understand it, it’s not God. Makes me smile every time. And of course there is always the first chapter in the Dao De Jing.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Those last two sentences seem particularly appropriate in these days running up to US elections, local and national. Thank you for your clarity and broad, compassionate view.

    Liked by 1 person

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