What lies within you?
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I attended the three-day White Privilege Conference earlier this month. On the second day of the conference, I cried. I didn’t cry once or twice; I cried most of the day.
The tears started with a discussion about history. American history is often taught to students from the perspective of patriotism and not nationalism. As Jim Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, explained from the stage, nationalism gives us the reflection that we are always right, never wrong except by accident with the best of intentions. Patriotism rebukes its country for its sins and doesn’t excuse them. Nationalism is not patriotic.
In many respects this wasn’t news to me but his discussion underscored why racism continues to have such a solid hold on our country. By omission of historical fact and in the name of nationalism, we teach our kids – all of our kids and not just the white ones – that American manifest destiny happened because the European conquerors of this country were smarter and better. American history is often rhetoric, not the accurate relation of events.
Take a moment to read this article in the NY Times, Making America Great Again, to understand how politicized teaching history is in this country.
Mr. Loewen then went on to explain the legacy of sundown towns: towns throughout the United States that by force, law, or custom don’t allow people of color, and specifically black people, to live in those towns. Sundown towns reached their peak in 1970.
After the discussion of history, I felt a weight of sadness and hurt. My tears became a silent resignation that at 49 years of age, I won’t see the racial advancement that I hope for in this country in my lifetime. As a person who has felt powerful for most of my life – I truly believed there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish – I felt powerless and it was crushing.
I write this a week and a half later and I realize I’m resilient. Which is even more important than feeling powerful.
I am resilient because I came home from that conference, took deep care for myself, and thought about how to apply what I learned to my life and the lives of my clients. I have decided to roll up my sleeves and get to work. The work that I am compelled to do in support of women and people of color.
In your life and your career, you will have obstacles that will appear insurmountable. How will you respond?
Do as Maria Shriver suggested in her Sunday Paper column in response to Sandra Day O’Conner’s question: “What are you doing with yourself that is significant.”
Maria responded, “You know, the truth is, what I’m really doing is building myself up from the inside out. I’m trying to make myself strong on the inside to be able to deal with life on the outside. That’s what I’m doing that’s significant.”
My power comes from building myself up on the inside. I care for myself mentally and physically. I balance my unwavering optimism with reality, and I do meaningful work that makes me show up every day.
Many of the comments I received from last week’s article say that I have a responsibility to show up and share my voice. I am humbled that my vision is a light for so many. I can’t dim myself either. It would go against what I tell my clients and what I believe to be true.
As women and people of color, you will have hard, challenging and soul-shaking experiences. Before you act on them, take deep care of yourself. I don’t mean go self- medicate with a drink. Before you act, rest and eat well. Make it a habit to read material or listen to music that restores you, and helps you believe in what you can do. Build yourself from the inside.
If you are the one telling yourself negative things, do what you need to do to address the behavior. Engage with a community, coach, or therapist to stop the habit. There is enough in the world pushing against you; don’t give them ammunition.
Many people who experience hardships in life and get through them don’t come out weaker, they come out better. Pick one behavior this week in order to take care of yourself and delve deep into making it true.
You can come out better and learn how to reject your rejection by someone else. It takes the development of mental fortitude and if you are a woman or person of color, you must concentrate on building it.