“….Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow someone else’s heroics, be humble
start close in, don’t mistake that other
for your own...
David Whyte says, “the poets job is to say to us what others will not say.” I don’t know whether that it is entirely true or not, but I do believe there is great wisdom in poetry and the words of this poem, from which I have chosen these few words, speak volumes to us for this time that we find ourselves occupying at the moment.
Story after story of increases in hateful speech and behavior toward those who are deemed as “other” in our midst continue to flood our airways. Constant negative talk about the plans of the president-elect for our nation and appointments to high level cabinet positions of people whose basic qualifications seems to be that they have none for the jobs they are being asked to do. The Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Steve Bannon, chief strategist and senior counselor, may be the worst choices yet. We will have to wait to see.
Of course there are reasons for thoughtful people to be concerned that cannot be reduced to an oversimplified claim of partisan envy. Folks with whom I speak and I are not particularly worried about Republicans winning an election. We have a two party system and sensible people believe that to be positive. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that there will be times when the party you favor will not be in office. The concerns go far beyond partisan politics.
Our concerns are about the assault on the basic fabric of our democracy and the way in which it’s being reduced to a twitter frenzy about so many things that do not rise beyond the level of a rant by a person who appears to have no capacity for thoughtful insight and reflection and who is now expected to govern a nation. The concerns that many of us have lie in the fact that a very negative and dangerous spirit has been pulled out of the genie’s bottle and we are not sure how long it will take to quell its ugly violent energy system.
The United States of America is not a white only country. In a few more years white people will be a minority and this last gasp by the white supremacists to return to the early 1900s is a maddening attempt to recapture a past that is never coming back. This is not about partisan politics. Republicans who know how to govern and who care about taking care of the country and sincerely wish to work for the good of the Republic are not a problem. The Trump administration shows no signs of being that type of entity.
But, David Whyte challenges us to look at the reality of this messy place that we see and to seek to find where we can start. “Start close in,” he says. What is in front of you? “Take that first step, the one that you don’t want to take.”
Perhaps the first step is to begin a fast from the news in order to gain a clearer perspective of the way ahead. It might mean reaching out to a stranger who represents one of the marginalized groups that is under attack. Perhaps it is more basic, it may simply have to do with changing one’s own attitude. Negativity can be diffused if enough of us refuse to be negative. Fear can be lessened as more of us exhibit courage. Hatred can be stunted by loving kindness. We cannot start any closer to ourselves than in our own hearts and minds. We do have control there unlike anywhere else in the world.
The poet says, “be humble and focused, start close in.” The choice is ours. We can choose.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.