LET THERE BE PEACE AMONG THE SISTERS AND BROTHERS
November 20, 2004
Speech presented by Alexander Yoo at the Los Angeles Transgender Day of Remembrance
I want to begin by acknowledging the palpable heaviness of heart I have seen and felt everywhere I go, post election. I mourn with all of you who feel demoralized, and I truly empathize with and share your sadness, disappointment, anger, bitterness, and rage. Many are asking, “How are we to live in this seemingly apocalyptic time? How do we continue to fight when ‘our side’ so abysmally failed? If we fight, what possible course of action will actually make a difference? Are we doomed to forever climb uphill, never to reach a plateau, ever struggling for breath?”
What then, is the pathway to peace?
As part of the healing process many people have sought answers for what led up to the defeat in the election. And, as part of that process, naturally, many feelings of resentment, disgust, and anger have arisen, sometimes targeting, for example, people in the red states.
I am here to say something slightly radical and possibly incendiary.
The issues and the difficulties that we face and the crushing problems of the world go beyond and even eclipse those who voted for Bush, many of whom suffer just as much from the injustice in which we live as we. Larger systemic forces of greater complexity at the sociopolitical and economic level, forces so insidious that they usually go undetected, deserve further focus.
Truthfully, I honestly cannot blame those who voted for Bush. Many of them, unsure as to how to cast their vote, ultimately chose to vote for Bush because of fear, the fear of this nebulous, faceless idea called “terror.” The majority of people in this country (not everyone, but most), no matter what their political affiliation, genuinely want to do the right thing. They have families and loved ones to provide for, they work hard, and they go about their lives wanting nothing more to survive, and if possible experience a little happiness before they die. They’re just like you and me in many ways, no matter how far removed their lives and professed ideals might seem from yours. I would wager that the majority of those who voted for Bush really, truly, sincerely thought they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, they had nothing but a massive campaign of lies, a systemic brainwashing that goes beyond Bush or any other recent president, with which to make their decision. This culture of fear in which we live has been so cunningly orchestrated, widespread, and so deeply inured within our society at so many different levels, for literally hundreds of years, you can’t expect a nine-month campaign for an uninspiring presidential candidate to reverse the effects of the complex matrix of fear, which has enslaved America. It's like trying to fight a barrage of bullets with a cardboard shield sometimes. The majority of those in the red states are not the enemy, nor are they necessarily "stupid," "ignorant," or "evil." We cannot generalize based on an affiliation because to do so disregards individuality, the heart of a person, the experiences of that person, and whatever other life circumstances led that person to that moment in the voting booth. Just as we hope others would do with us, we must consider all of these larger systemic, ecological, environmental, historical, class, and experiential factors before casting judgment. Rather, we need to rise above the forces of distrust, fear, and hate with the only truly effective weapons that have any hope of impact: compassion, understanding, empathy, and hope, all in the context of THE POWER OF INTERACTION AND RELATIONSHIP.
The only way to dispel hate and create peace is to rise above the true enemy, that is, the culture of fear and hate that has predominated in this society for hundreds of years. We must choose to be the agent of change we wish to see in the world. Someone must initiate that change, and I think that we as a people have indeed been called, like the prophets of old, to act as catalysts. To that end, we must make the first steps, even when we fear retaliation, ignorance, and misunderstanding. If we do not take the first step toward healing, who will? We who know better, we who have tasted of the sweet fountain of freedom, liberty, Truth, compassion, and understanding are the only ones who can bring a taste of what we have experienced to those who are so far removed from freedom, they don’t even know to look up into the sky to see the stars.
Bill Clinton said at the dedication of his presidential library a few days ago, “Our differences do matter...but our common humanity matters more.” I would add to this that differences do matter, and yes our common humanity, but more importantly, the Spirit that unites us all, every living thing in this universe, matters more.
God/Force/Universe, or whatever and however you conceive the binding and unifying Spirit that imbues every atom in the cosmos with its being and nature, IS the ultimate in relationship and interaction. Each moment of inspiration, each time we are struck by the beauty of nature, every epiphany, every time we create, we emote, we feel, we reach outside of our earthly vessels with our spirits to the rest of the Universe, every time we think or do something higher and noble, every “ah-ha” moment, if you will, is God (or The Force, The Spirit, etc.) interacting with us. Even when we do not know we are in a relationship with The Spirit, even when that communication or contact is not reciprocated, nevertheless, we make our way through the world and have an ephemeral connection to every other living thing in this universe because of The Spirit’s interaction and communion with us. We are intricately and unavoidably connected by this same Spirit to even those who would persecute us.
Look at each person in your life and even those outside of your realm of influence, those whom you love and cherish, those whom you merely tolerate, those whom you despise, and those who have hurt you and inflicted pain upon you in their own wounded ignorance. Really, truly look. We ask to be understood and truly seen. We ask to be accepted and regarded with dignity as unique and divine human beings. So too should we see our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, no matter what their beliefs, affiliation, life circumstances, history, or creed.
How can those who have only known fear for so long hope to change unless we show them, model for them, a different way to live? And what better way than through building relationships, communicating, interacting with, and reaching out toward those who fear us because they literally know nothing else? How can those who have eaten garbage all their lives know how to appreciate bounty unless you share it with them?
We are each so limitless, so beyond beautiful, so full of great compassion, so full of creative, life-giving energy, and so connected to the Divine, whether or not we realize it. I am reminded of the Buddhist folk tale of the son sent on a journey with nothing but a tattered coat his mother and father gave him. He survived his journey after facing many obstacles but when he reached his destination only then did he realize that all he needed for the journey, vast riches, were sewn into the lining of his jacket. He possessed what he needed all along, but he did not realize it. We too carry much potential to create peace in the world, through THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIP. We so do not know power of interpersonal relationships, of one to one interaction, of relating with another, the act of creation between two or more people that brings us ever closer to our own Divine natures, more than isolation or combat ever could. If we only knew how powerful we really are, and if we could only see the untapped potential in all those around us, and ourselves! So much possibility! So much potency! So much change we could realize with the complex simplicity of Relationship!
I would like to share with all of you something that really made this Divine Power a reality for me. My aunt, my Tita Raquel, has terminal cancer. She visited Los Angeles recently and stayed with my mother, her sister. When I saw her, my heart broke. She has become so thin, a shell of her former self. She walks with a cane now, though she’s only in her late fifties. When I saw her, I thought for a moment that she was my grandmother, that’s how much she has physically changed. Her decline pains me especially because my Tita Raquel is the only person out of my entire biological family who accepts me as ME, for who I am, whereas my mother and I have an immensely strained relationship. As I was talking with my Tita, she said some things that have completely shifted my worldview. Among other things, Tita told me to keep interacting with my mother rather than sever all ties to her. I told her that it pains me so much when my mother cannot even use the right pronouns and names with me, nor can she even bear to look me full in the face without bursting into tears. And Tita said to me, Just LET GO. She has unfulfilled dreams for you, what parent doesn’t, but just let that pain go. When she looks at you with those eyes of pain, let that pain go. Don’t let it keep you from her. She needs you to help her open her heart. Right now, her heart is ‘like this,’ (as she made a fist). But the more you interact with her, the more you tell her about your life, even the trivialities, and about all the other wonderful things you have seen and experienced, her heart will start to open.”
From anyone else I would have completely ignored these words, but my aunt has earned not only my love but also my respect. She, too, has had to let many things go when it comes to my parents. And I resolved that if she could let those things go and keep having relationship with my mother, so can I.
Already, I see more of my mother’s Divine nature coming out, the more I interact with her. And I suspect that with each point of contact, even something as trivial as an email thanking her for the Filipino pastries I’ve been living off of lately, her heart is opening ever so slowly, but surely. The power of relationship, while not a panacea or cure-all, has miracle-working powers indeed.