Hope and Despair

The tragic shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston have weighed heavily on so many of us. I have felt it and talked with many others who are struggling to make sense of what is happening in our world. And if we claim to be a force for change and justice these events can provoke feelings of helplessness, anger, grief, and sadness.

When such violence and hatred occurs, I find myself feeling intense urgency to do something. At the same time a feeling of overwhelm shows up in a big way. I want to make a difference.Teresa Graham Brett

And then I remind myself that sitting with all of the emotions that arise, finding some sense of clarity and understanding allows me to find my way through all that is happening outside of me and within me.

After sitting with trying to understanding what difference I can make, I inevitably go back to my own responsibility in my life and to my purpose.

What I’ve been reflecting on most over the last few days is the power of fear. Fear has the power to drive us into corners, to see enemies all around us, and then to lash out and harm others.

I am also reflecting on the power of love. The power that love and hope have to move us to create space for others and know that we do not have to be afraid. Or that even if we are afraid to act from that fear ultimately hurts all of us.

I know that when I am deep in fear, it is because I feel that I will not be seen, heard, or that alternatively, I will be targeted and hurt.

Sometimes from that place of fear (even fear that is hidden deep within me) I find myself hurting others. I hurt others because I do not feel safe, because I feel as though they will take something away from me or that they will hurt me before I hurt them. From these places of fear, I lash out and see others as my enemy. This is a cycle that is so common in our culture.

And then there is that place of love. Love.

Even as I write this, I understand that each evokes a response within me, a reaction that is physical and emotional. Fear feels like tightening and constriction and love feels open and expansive.

I also have been reflecting on the words of bell hooks about love and fear.

Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society we make much of love and say little about fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. As a culture we are obsessed with the notion of safety.


Yet we do not question why we live in states of extreme anxiety and dread. Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination…. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.

-bell hooks

And so we ask ourselves, how can we make a difference in the face of fear, violence and hatred?

I believe that my own responsibility is to understand how that fear, violence, and hatred shows up in my own life.

When those emotions show up for me, what do they mean and how do I respond?

I say this because in order to understand more deeply how I make a difference in the world, I have to see myself in the other person. I have to be willing to see the ways that those emotions come into my life and push me into corners from which I lash out at those I perceive to be the, my enemy.

When I can begin to understand that within myself, then I can begin to understand those mechanisms that bring us here.

How is it in our culture we allow, even cultivate fear, hatred, and violence? And how is that manifested within me?

A personal understanding of the conditions that bring that forth in me then allow me to see the steps that I take in my life to understand, accept, and ultimately move through those emotions that prompt me to hurt others.

My internal process sheds light on what others may be experiencing. My learning and unlearning process allows me to develop compassion for the ways we have all internalized cultures of domination that cultivate fear.

I become more accountable for how I am in the world and I can begin to be accountable to those around me.

I quote bell hooks again, for myself, to remind me. “When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.”

So I send you so much love today. To weather the despair, to embrace all that life is, and to parent for social change.




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