What in your life is calling you?
When all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists laid aside,
and the wild iris blooms by itself
in the dark forest,
what still pulls on your soul?
In the silence between your heartbeats
hides a summons.
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must,
or leave it forever nameless,
but why pretend it is not there?
— The Terma Collective, “The Box: Remembering the Gift”
I have spent much of my life playing it safe. I don’t like to make waves, to address conflict, to upset apple carts.
And, in my playing it safe, I have spent an inordinate amount of time rubbing up against the dissonance of my decisions, the disparity of standing upright when upside down is calling me to jettison my life-preserver and dive into the deep-end untethered by the status quo.
Yesterday, I sat on the deck, wrapped up in a blanket, my iPad on my lap and indulged in an hour of TED talks. The morning sun was hidden behind a layer of clouds, the air was cool and fresh. C.C. slept in the bedroom, Marley, the Great Cat, sprawled out at his feet while Ellie, the Wonder Pooch, ever hopeful I would rub her ears or drop her a treat, lay beside me watching for marauding squirrels to chase after.
One of the talks I listened to was Margaret Heffernan’s “The Dangers of ‘Wilful Blindness’“.
Willful blindness, explains Heffernan is a legal concept that states that if there is information you could and/or should know, but somehow you somehow manage not to know, the law deems that you are willfully blind. It happens on epic portions, the execution of Hitler’s ‘final solution’ is one example as is the Enron scandal. But it also happens on smaller scales, every day. In numerous research projects to determine if there are issues in corporations that people are afraid to raise, Heffernan and other researchers discovered that 85% of employees feel there are issues they should speak up against but stay silent because of fear, despair, a belief nothing will change, fear of retaliation, or simply because they don’t trust anyone enough to tell the truth,
“Freedom doesn’t exist if you don’t use it,” says Heffernan.
Recently, a brilliant woman I know, Karen GB, told me how she once warned a woman who was mistreating her small child in a grocery story that if she didn’t stop, she would call Social Services. The woman told her to get lost, (in not so nice language) and Karen didn’t back down. “I’m a social worker,” she said. “I know who to call.”
Normally, if Karen happens upon a parent whose child is acting out in a store, she’ll offer a smile and words of encouragement, but in this case, the woman was being so abusive Karen felt she had to intervene. She could not stay silent. She could not feign blindness.
Several years ago, while walking along a street in the east end of downtown, I came across a group of people sitting on a grassy verge. As I approached I noticed one of the men jump up and start to yell and scream at another. He grabbed the man on the ground’s backpack, tore it open and started to empty the contents onto the grass. The group looked on in lazy indolence, not moving an inch while the one man screamed at the other and started to poke at him with one foot.
I was frightened. Both for the man being taunted and myself. I was a block from the shelter where I used to work and there was no one else around. The area is rife with dealers preying upon the vulnerable and this definitely looked like a drug-related shakedown.
I took a breath and kept walking closer. At one point, the man standing up punched the guy on the ground in the head. And then he hit him again.
I yelled. “Hey!”
Everyone ignored me.
I yelled again.
Still they ignored me.
I didn’t know what to do.
I had no desire to confront the man who was becoming more and more violent, but I did need to stop his abuse.
Just then, I spied a police car driving down a side-street. I ran around the corner, flagged the police officer down and told him what was happening. He promised to check into it after telling me to keep walking away.
So I did.
Now, I know walking away was the safest and smartest thing to do, but I can still see that tableau, several years later, in my mind’s eye.
The disparity of their positions rubs against my peace of mind. The raw casual violence of the one man beating up another who did not, or simply could not, or knew better than, to fight back. The disregard and/or acceptance/resignation of the others of the situation, of their situation.
And here’s the challenge.
I want to stop it. I want to stop such violence in our world. I want to spread sunshine, not discord. I want to teach people how to get along, how to find their dreams, how to stand up, not just for themselves but for love and dignity and respect and honour.
I want to teach people how to hear that sill quiet voice within and recognize it as their soul calling them to stand up, speak up, be heard and express their freedom in Love.
And I want to say to that man on the grassy verge, to all of that group, “You matter and what you do matters.” And when we beat up one another, when we silently watch another being abused. We are all being beaten into silence. We are all being abused.