Over here in Oakland, CA, we are on the cusp of hearing the verdict on the Johannes Mehserle trial. (SF Gate: Summing up the Two Arguments in the Mehserle Trial) I’ve been speaking with a lot of folks, and our communities are on tenterhooks. Many of us are teetering between hope and heartbreak.
A month ago, I was in Israel co-leading our first Art of Collaborative Leadership for social justice leaders there. I arrived two days after the flotilla incident. (BBC: Q&A – Israeli Deadly Raid on Aid Flotilla) The world was watching as things unfolded, with many of us teetering between hope and heartbreak.
And woven throughout both events are outrage, fear and blame.
As I boarded the plane for Israel, I wondered if participants would choose to drop out at the last moment because of the intensity of what was transpiring there. Everyone chose to attend. Some were wary, many were tired, but they came. Today, I considered waiting to write this column until after the Mehserle verdict came in. I’m writing anyway.
I’ve come to realize that we are always on the brink of something; that we are teetering in every moment. One of our Israeli participants told me that of course they would attend, saying, “If we stopped working every time something happened, nothing would ever get done.” The same is true here.
What happens in the world is often out of our personal control. What we do have choice about is how we approach what’s going on. Right now I am praying mightily that my city will not erupt into flame and chaos in reaction to the verdict. I am simultaneously praying mightily that those in the Middle East will find a path to peaceful co-existence.
In either case, I’m not so sure what the solutions leading to peace and justice might be. There was a time not so long ago when I thought I knew — I could point to them with my finger, could name them clearly. Now, I’m not so sure.
I am sure, however, that I am tired. Tired of fear and death and war. Of children dying at the hands of the state or each other. Of needless pain and suffering. I’m tired.
So I’m choosing to look beyond outrage and blame. I’m reaching for grace — for an emerging generosity of spirit.
Grace happens between people — it is a community event. And as we all know well, good leadership depends on strong partnerships. We can no longer afford to lead in isolation.
What if we who are working for fairness and equity stopped nit-picking at each other, and in the words of my friend Roz, lifted each other up instead? What if it ceased to matter which strategy someone chooses, or whether or not our politics perfectly align? What if we looked at those of us working for social transformation (in whatever ways we can imagine) with gratitude rather than judgment? What if each of us vowed to never disparage any other person working to make this world better?
So this is a call to community — an invitation to you to reach for your peeps, your allies and co-conspirators. They are myriad and many. Let us not splinter across our differences — let’s keep reaching for each other.
Reaching for grace.
From my heart to yours,
p.s. — About a half hour after I finished writing this letter, the verdict came through. While there were some violent responses, I have been impressed with the mostly peaceful protests. I appreciate the actions of community activists who offered places in which people could come together, and the way the police and city government worked proactively to contain the response.