I remember it as though it happened yesterday. It’s ironic how we tend to recall memories that are painful; there is something about this thing we call life that makes us dwell in the whimsical as we quickly forget the less burdensome moments of our lives. The year was 1999 and I had just broken up with someone I thought was the love of my life. This was my first bite from the apple of heartbreak; I tasted the regret of love lost and the remorse of having loved at all.
To say I was in a sour mood would do an injustice to lemons, I was saltier than the Dead Sea and Lot’s wife combined. I found myself wavering between sadness and indignation; the convivial Teddy was replaced with a bitter soul who cursed my last name—Fikre means my love in Amharic. It’s the most acerbic of ironies, the same love that keeps us bathed in joy is the same love that cocoons us in sorrows. I came to know this irony on an intimate basis when I was twenty-three.
It was during this occasion that I ran into a most jovial fella at work named Joseph. Joseph was a first generation immigrant from Nigeria; he spoke with a thick accent and got along with everybody. He was also hardworking as they come; like most first generation immigrants, he was determined to attain the American dream as he toiled during the day only to go home and study all night to attain a CCNA certification. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him in the past; I found him to be of good character who reminded me of my father’s tenacity without the sternness of my dad.
But on that particular day that I ran into Joseph in the corridors of Sprint’s GSD building, his jolly demeanor and pleasantries stirred another emotion in my heart. In all honesty, his happiness pissed me off! Instead of smiling back and saying hello with the warmth he reflected at me, I returned his cheerfulness with ice filled scorn. I’m not a violent guy, I can count on one hand how many fights I’ve been a party to in my entire life. But on that day, seeing Joseph’s jubilation inspired thoughts of Fight Club in my mind.
The crazy thing is that I thought he was the one who was nuts. I remember murmuring in my mind that Joseph is off his rockers for being that gleeful. I did not realize at that time that my external anger was a reflection of my internal angst. In reflection, I understand why I had the reaction that I had towards Joseph that day. This experience I’m recounting is not something that is unique to me nor is the emotion that I felt upon bumping into mirthful person a minority opinion. I’m pretty sure most of us have had these moments where we get livid when we see someone who is a tad bit too merry for our liking.
As life would have it, the disposition of animus that I passed along to Joseph in 1999 was passed back to me in spades over the past two years. During my initial foray into the abyss of indigence in February of 2015, I found shelter at the Greenville Mission in South Carolina. I was new to a life of poverty, life had not taught me to be bitter from the experiences of being rendered invisible by society. I must have been a sight to the residents of the mission, each day I woke up in good spirits because hopelessness had yet to overtake my soul. Each day, my optimism and spright was met with odium and spite.
Here is what I have learned over my years of observing human behaviors and my own motivations. The more we are broken in life, the more we want to break others. There is a joy we get—the deepest of schadenfreude—when we throttle others down to our levels. This contentment we get from the comeuppance of others is magnified by factors of a thousand when we step on others who we think are out to belittle us. The mistake we make is projecting our wounds upon others; the world truly becomes as we feel within. But mending inside takes effort, it is easier to pick up blow torches and scorch everyone who does not think like us, feel like us and who is not as dismayed as us.
The more I reflect, the more I realize that the problem that confounds us is not politics nor is it necessarily injustice. These things are all manifestations of how we feel on the inside. If we do not change within, how do we expect the world to change from without? We seem intent on delivering change through hubris and imposition. The world burns as social justice warriors add logs on the fire of anger. We don’t need warriors, what this world needs desperately are social justice believers. If we only pause and reflect and take a moment to heal our brokenness, we can change the world by osmosis.
"If we pass on kindness to others in immediate circumference, we can accomplish infinitely more than we can by chanting political slogans in cordoned areas and marching in restricted protest zones." - Click to Tweet
It is said with wisdom comes woes. But after we pass through woes, we are blessed with the gift of understanding. Yet even with understanding, there is still a life long process of practicing those things we know to be true. After spending most of my adult life trying to prove points and putting people in their place if they dared to come at me with even a shade of antagonism, I have learned the hard way that all battles are not meant to be fought. I’ve also come to know my contributions to the ill of this world. It was my brokenness that made me have hostilities towards Joseph. His optimism triggered my lack of it. I’m sure at one point in his life, Joseph was in the same shoes I was and learned that the throes of life are best answered with gratefulness than they are with vengeance.
We live in an age where demagogues on all side are pushing us to bicker with each other and to declare war upon fellow sufferers. Radicalism has overtaken rationalism as firebrands convince us that the way to stand for equality is by reducing those who don’t think like us or look like us to rubble. We would do well to reflect on the wisdom of past generations; there was once a time where non-violence was embraced and great thinkers espoused unity. This excerpt from the Student Non-Violent Coordinated Committee—a movement popularly known as SNCC that stood against Jim Crow and segregation in the 60s—should be required reading for all who believe in social justice:
“Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear. Love transcends hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Faith reconciles doubt. Peace dominates war. Mutual regards cancel enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes immoral social systems.”
Social activists and “leaders” who are pushed and paid by the status quo are trying their level best to convince us that now is the time for confrontation and get in their face tactics. Ignore them, these people will be sipping their lattes and Moscato in their ivory towers if the bullets ever start to fly. Revolutions always seem sexy in theory until the reality of bodies in the street and blood on pavements teaches us the horrors of our darker sides. Before that day arrives, let us ponder what we need as a society apart from our wants. If we truly want to make a difference in this world, we can only do so with kindness and goodwill towards even those who wish us harm.
On this Valentines Day, instead of worrying about materialism and cards, let us reflect on this one thing. No matter how much we fight hatred, hate always wins. Hate gets stronger each time you punch at it. It’s the hardest of tasks but the most potent of weapons, loving hate is the only way to defeat it. I write this not from a position of authority but as a profession of my hope for humanity. You can’t fight for love anymore than you can war for freedom; the only way to stand for justice is through love with the spirit of unity and inclusiveness. #SocialJusticeBelievers
None are greater than the other, we all are greater when we love and help one another.
Teodrose Fikre is the editor and founder of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two-year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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