Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Riot Within*

Violent protests in response to violent actions are understandable, especially when the violent actions occur repeatedly, and are directed disproportionately towards human beings who are already marginalized in every other regard. What white privileged people need to do is shake up their own hearts and minds, violently so if necessary. Here are some things to consider.

The following is not a riddle, but a starting point to operate from: What is not black, white, yellow, red, brown, or any other color? What is not male, female, or any other sexual or gender identity? What is not gay, straight, queer, or any sexual orientation at all? What is not young or old? The answer is: Your soul. Think about that. The very fabric of your being has absolutely nothing to do with demographics nor outward appearances. Most of those are accidents of genetics and time.

We must begin to live our lives first and foremost from that perspective, as soul first, and everything else second. Not even second. Trivial, if not totally meaningless. Some rare individuals have achieved this, but most of us have not. It is not something you can teach, and not an overnight transformation. It takes conscious effort, and it may even fly in the face of your biological nature. The thing about our species is that we were gifted the ability to understand and, when necessary, overcome our instincts when they do not serve us well.

Caucasian people cannot possibly comprehend what the experience of a black person is like. We can, maybe, understand from our own experiences those circumstances of exclusion, repeated denial of our worth, and poverty. Thankfully, fewer still know the fear for their life every day, from others, even law enforcement. We do not know what it is to be subjected daily to suspicion, stereotypes, and injustice, with zero justification. If we can at least empathize, then we know we cannot demand that those tortured souls “behave” themselves in the face of continued mistreatment.

We should indeed feel shame for participating in institutional racism, even unwittingly, and fully recognize the sins of our fathers from previous generations. It can end with us if we want it to. We should want it to, because in limiting anyone else, we limit ourselves. Back to the soul again, the part of you that is colorblind. You cannot elevate your own being by denigrating anyone else. That is the strategy of the bully, and if you measure your life purely by economic and social status, then you are missing the vast ocean for the beach.

Surrender is the answer, of course. Surrender power to those we have marginalized and betrayed. Exercise your faith that equality for others does not translate to reverse inequality. Reverse discrimination is a myth fed to us by those who wield economic and social power over others of all non-affluent demographics. Stop defining the rules so that you can maintain all the benefits you receive from them. Stop insisting that you know what is best for others when they can damn well speak for themselves. Take their cuffs off and embrace the possibilities.

Most of all, surrender your personal attitudes and assumptions, and expose yourself as much as possible to as many other souls as possible, ignoring the externalities. “Free your mind” is not just a wonderful quote from The Matrix, it should be what we strive for every minute of every day. Accept nothing less of yourself than a total commitment to living from your soul first, and accepting others at the level of their soul.

Limitless. That is the essence of our souls, and we are all in bondage when we define ourselves and each other by mere physicality, philosophy, and fiscal parameters. Murder, mass incarceration, discrimination, and racism are overt acts of hostility that threaten to unravel us as a society and as individuals. They are the antithesis of who we are at our core, in our souls. We owe it to ourselves to be better than that, to transcend our bodies and minds, and lead with our hearts.

* This title came to mind without my knowledge that it is also the title of a book by Rodney King.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Charity Fatigue

There is no shortage of organizations to choose from in spending your donation dollars during our international pandemic emergency, assuming you have some disposable income and are not yourself in need of assistance. It can be overwhelming to contemplate charitable giving for a variety of reasons beyond the infinite diversity of causes. How do we act responsibly? That is a very personal decision only you can make.

Remember the adage “charity begins at home?” Ok, sounds great, but how come you do not qualify for a tax deduction unless the family member you are providing financial aid to lives physically in your household as a “dependent?” Countless citizens in the U.S. are caregivers to their parents in one sense or another, often helping maintain the independence of their mother or father, as they should if at all possible. Apparently, our government does not respect that effort. It certainly does not reward it.

A friend who reviews government grant applications as part of her job responsibilities recently described how she was receiving applications from individuals desperate for financial aid, but who had no experience in the proper field, nor any explicit outline or plan germane to the grant itself. At least one individual was seeking funds for healthcare. Grant applications are not easily prepared, nor without strict protocol, so going to such lengths knowing the odds are stacked heavily against you is a tragically remarkable effort.

My friend’s empathetic sharing of her travail exposes the most excruciating notion to contemplate: There are clearly many needs that should already be met by governments, the private sector, or both. Increasingly, federal, state, and local jurisdictions are abdicating their responsibilities to the poor, women, and marginalized citizens we have historically referred to as minorities. This willful neglect is too often at the behest of large corporations seeking tax breaks, outright bailouts, and other subsidies to permit continued profiteering.

The situation is further aggravated by those same corporations who refuse to pay living wages to their employees, provide affordable healthcare options, family leave, and other “benefits” that amount to necessities in order to maintain a physically, mentally, and financially healthy, productive workforce.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few also results in a small number of charitable foundations receiving a disproportionately large amount of donor revenue. Bill Gates wants to end malaria. Noble cause, but how many other causes go wanting? Every celebrity guest appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s at-home episodes of The Tonight Show has their pet charity that they advocate. Not every organization is blessed with such high-profile endorsements; and when does your donation become social currency for your own popularity?

Social media fundraisers run the gamut, too, and it is likely that many of your friends will select a favorite organization for which to solicit donations. This is a wonderful opportunity, but I find myself donating randomly, by gut instinct rather than proper research for how the organization is run, what percentage of your donation reaches its target versus what goes to administrative costs, and other factors that would better inform my decision.

Beyond the motivation for generosity generated by other individuals, and the media, there exist far more reasons for “charity choice paralysis.” The more empathetic the individual, the more difficult it is to choose, the easier it is to cling to your money lest you face a personal crisis yourself. Often, those who want to help are the least likely to ask for help themselves when they truly need it. Tornado and hurricane seasons are approaching, maybe we should wait until one of those other natural disasters hits us. Wow, when did charitable giving begin to resemble gambling?

Ultimately, no one can persuade you to part with your money for any reason, nor should they try. You have freedom of choice, one of those being to refrain from making donations. As for myself, I am torn these days between giving up on humanity entirely, and donating strictly to organizations devoted to the salvation of other species; or just scrolling through GoFundMe to find worthy individuals. Maybe I will seize upon an opportunity provided by a friend brave enough to disclose their dire circumstances on Facebook.