“The time is always right to do what is right.”
– MLK Jr.
This is going to be
hard for me
The challenge of writing for me, now, is not stringing the words together. I’ve been doing it long enough; I can make the English language do pretty much what I want it to.
The challenge of writing for me, now, is going deeper than the surface. Digging below orderly grammar rules and clever turns of phrase; striking at the chaotic, pulsing, mud-crumbled roots where the truth flows. That is something I haven’t done lately.
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous
than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
– MLK Jr.
Like the Type-A go-getter I am, I had a Big Plan for 2015. I brainstormed it over a period of several weeks. It was an intellectual exercise, designed to fill in one of the holes in my personality – one of the things I’ve always felt that I lacked – the ability to be more like the people around me, the people I enjoy and respect. Yes, I’ll say it – to fit in.
Intellectualized, it sounded much grander.
My plan was this:
In 2015, I was going to
Submerge my ego,
become a leaf in the stream,
and find out what lessons
could be learned
by going with the flow.
Sounds pretty good, right?
I was looking forward to what I could be, if I could learn to be nothing at all.
Right away I got my first lesson.
Here’s the first thing that happened in 2015:
I was in the passenger seat of a car,
and the situation became dangerous.
I was afraid for my life.
But I was also afraid to say anything.
So I went with the flow.
There was an accident.
My friend and I were not hurt, but the other driver was. There was screaming, and an ambulance, and tow trucks.
Throughout the entire experience, and even after, I kept telling my friend, “it’s okay.” “you couldn’t have done anything about it.”
That was true.
I was the one at fault.
As the only person
in the world
who realized that
the situation was unsafe
I should have spoken up.
Was I afraid of making a fuss?
Scared to go against the flow?
By telling the truth, by saying “we need to get off the road NOW,” I could have averted that accident.
“The ultimate measure of a man
is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– MLK Jr.
My first lesson of 2015
turned out to be this:
Going with the flow
is a cop-out strategy.
On the scale of humanity’s planetary tumult, that little accident was insignificant. Not so insignificant for the man who suddenly found himself freed from the confines of gravity, hurtling helplessly through the air to land crumpled on the blacktop.
Talk about feeling the flow.
We frolic on the knife-edge of freedom and folly every day, and few experiences symbolize that better than the experience of driving a car. We pit our wills against the laws of physics, lock ourselves into steel cells, and put the pedal to the metal.
The tacit agreement
between every human
on the road
in the moment we share
a stretch of tarmac,
we all vow to act
with mutual respect
To flow together
in the same direction.
That is a tall order
It’s human nature to act without awareness. To ignore the signs. To get in your own way. We are masters of deception, sabotage, hypocrisy. We chart a clear course, then take dangerous shortcuts through shark-infested waters. We can not help ourselves.
Nobody wins – it’s not actually a race – but we all think we’re doing it to get ahead.
That is not a good enough reason.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– MLK Jr.
It took me decades to begin understanding what the truth actually is. Once I did, I set out to discover more of it. And to share it. It’s my primary mission in life. It is the most difficult life goal I can imagine. To do even an adequate job, I will have to work at it every day.
The truth requires selflessness. But it also requires honesty. You can’t have one without the other.
Going against the current is dangerous. But as Utah Phillips said: “following the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked.”
So how did I, an innately outspoken person, reach the point where I thought it was more dangerous to speak the truth than to protect my life and the lives of the people around me?
How far gone was I, and how long did it take me to get there?
I’m not going to answer that. You can probably guess, though. Maybe it’s a question for next time.
For now, all I can say is that keeping my mouth shut was stupid. It was a bad choice, and I was lucky to learn my lesson sooner than later, easier than harder.
I can not continue to be weak, silent, agreeable, passive. I can’t lend my time, my voice, my skills to things that accomplish nothing, or things that are headed in dangerous directions – no matter how easy it is to go with the flow.
Neither can I fight the current. If I don’t agree with how things are going, I have to change the river’s course.
I have to dig down below the surface, where the difficult secrets lie, and unearth them. I have to get my hands dirty. I have to work for the truth, and little else.
I have to be honest,
when it is painful,
when it hurts feelings,
when it is confusing,
when it is right,
when it isn’t.
It’s hard to write this, but my fingers are tingling as I type.
I can feel my blood flowing.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love
will have the final word in reality.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.