The Cultivating Respect initiative has always been more about encouraging an internal examination than demanding respect. We can only control ourselves, and taking an honest look at those selves, and doing our own “heart” work, can lead to greater peace, inclusiveness and respect in our communities.
Certainly, there are flashpoints in our histories that cry for more. Getting ugly, getting loud, demanding justice, and giving space to be more aggressive than passive comes to the forefront when the pleas for help go unheard for too long. That’s a difficult line to draw. No one wants to be alienated. No one likes being called out for their shortcomings. Violence of any form is hard to stomach. Not everyone has an easy time embracing change, especially if that change is upsetting a power dynamic.
However, acknowledging and accepting the demand for justice is rooted in love, respect and understanding. Right now, we find ourselves in an era that makes it necessary we get uncomfortable for the sake of the safety and wellbeing of others. Can you make space in your heart for this? And allow that space to eclipse deep-seated fears?
I was asked recently to repeat the names of people – Americans that are our brothers and sisters in this thing called life – whose lives have been unjustly lost at the hands of the police. As I said their names, and listened as my husband and children did the same, it reminded me of what I’ve learned about Breonna Taylor, who was killed earlier this year when police entered the wrong apartment and mistakenly yet egregiously took the life of this first responder and front line COVID worker as she lay in her own bed. Her name has been tugging at my heart. As if all the other stories weren’t difficult enough, her story has weighed heavily on me. She is but one example in a sea of injustices suffered by Americans, and I find myself tearfully contemplating, how can I affect change to help my sisters, my brothers, my fellow Americans? How can I go from caring on the sidelines, to putting myself in the heat of the game as an ally and advocate?
Facebook and Twitter can fill our days with endless debates on everything from the critical to the mundane. Geez, do people like to fall on their swords for an opinion rather than being open to shifting their own paradigm! It. Is. Exhausting. However, there is so much at our fingertips that can translate to enlightenment. #SayHerName is a social media awareness campaign that was created by the African American Policy Forum in 2014. Because the suffering of black women too often goes unheard, the campaign aims to increase the visibility of black women and girls who have been victimized by police brutality, acts of violence that disproportionately affect women of color. I encourage you to read, listen, contemplate. There is so much to learn from these heart wrenching stories.
(Side note, use your posts, likes and shares wisely. Recent history has shown the enormous impact of social media. Be a part of the solution here folks.)
Listen, if this is not the race/class/gender/whatever category you define yourself, it doesn’t matter, because human dignity matters. Their lives matter – not more, not less, but until we care enough about the dignity of all life, we are failing. Many of us, myself included, have rested in the comfort of a skin color or socioeconomic power dynamic that we have profited from. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, or wallow in self-loathing, but Cultivating Respect within our communities starts with an honest examination of ourselves. If we respond with anything less than empathy and a willingness to listen and learn, we are failing our fellow Americans. And if we’ve sat in the seat of privilege, that internal examination of conscious if vitally important, because it’s quite possible that our viewpoint has been somewhat or completely clouded… or whitewashed.
Even those of us that think we’re “woke” have more to learn. Especially those of us who think racism was “fixed” by Dr. King, or that President Barak Obama made us all colorblind, or that they have black friends so certainly can’t be influenced by racism… we have more to learn. Textbooks full. I don’t subscribe to cancel culture, and I certainly don’t think that I will win hearts and minds by labeling people racist. There is room here for empathy from every angle, and I believe in the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. I simply believe everyone can be welcomed into the fold, no matter where we have been or what we have done. With a willingness to learn and change, we can and we will do better. But it won’t happen organically. It must be intentional, with a heaping dose of humility.
I challenge to you be humble and take a good look at your own self, your own heart. Where have we fallen short? Does our belief system benefit all or the few? What choices are we making to affect change? What lies within us that we need to reexamine? What examples can we set in our words and actions to be a positive light to others? What can we do within our own communities to cultivate an environment that is truly respectful and just for all?
Your heart can break wide open, if you let it. We have nothing to lose from giving space and being an ally to those who are asking simply for justice and fairness, nothing less than you expect for your own self and your own family. Yes, the headlines and footage have been frustrating and disconcerting. But I believe you have a bigger heart than to just keep on scrolling. Doing the work needed is a lot to ask of ourselves, but we are capable. The world is changing, hopefully for the better, and it is to be embraced, not feared. May fear of that change be forever eclipsed by the size and capacity of our hearts.
Darcy Castro is the 2019 Elite National American Woman of Service, representing a national pageant focused on community service and empowering women. Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro is an initiative focused on practical ways to create respectful environments in our own little pockets of the world. Each month’s article and podcast feature honest, thought-provoking ideas that aim to inspire and foster positive, respectful communities. Follow Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro at DarcyCastro.com.