Both courage and cowardice showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. The counter-demonstrators showed up with the courage to stand for their values. The demonstrators hid behind weapons and vicious words to violently reject everything and everyone they stood against. While they did not hide under white robes and masks, I still call this cowardice because what they did was inherently selfish. It was about asserting their own “superiority” rather than placing oneself in service of others.
I have participated in demonstrations where I was threatened by violence, and this weekend I found myself traumatized all over again watching social and news media reports. I had numerous friends in that crowd of counter-demonstrators, so my fear was personal. But in a ‘meta-family’ way I feel connected to everyone there, especially Heather Heyer and others who were injured. The members of my family who stood up to injustice and bigotry inspire me every day and bolster my own need for courage.
Parker Palmer says that “violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” Those who lash out at “others” are in some way already ripped apart in their souls, disconnected from the cause and effect of their own suffering. There are so many failings in a system and a culture when we don’t teach people to respond to their suffering with courage and instead abet and tolerate their cowardice.
There are many political and social responses that we are called upon to make in these times. It is also important, though, to attend to our own souls.
How do we keep who we are in the deepest sense connected to how we act in the world? What do we need to take responsibility for? What emboldens us to step out of safety and into the light of demanding justice?
I am thankful for so many leading lights that inspire me every day to live my values, however imperfectly.
Our friends and partners at The People’s Supper released guidebooks this week to help create kind, loving, and supportive containers for healing and grieving after Charlottesville. There are resources for planning gatherings. And there are resources for those of us who need more immediate support.