Strange title, I agree, but let me be clear, I am not talking about illegitimate suffering. I am talking about legitimate suffering, or suffering for the good.
Such is the case, in making a case for love. Love is work, and sometimes the pain of legitimate suffering too.
Doesn’t a parent suffer through difficult and often unpopular decisions, for the sake of their child?
Doesn’t a mate suffer through the insensitivity of and from the one they love, because they know that actions don’t necessarily equal intent?
Didn’t Jesus Christ suffer for the cause of God’s children, as redemption of and for our sins?
But suffering for the good is not a natural state; it is a muscle we must learn to use. The natural thing to do is to flee, or worse, to (defensively) strike back. But, there is a more enlightened option – and an opportunity too. After all, you cannot have a rainbow, without a storm first.
One of my dear friends and colleagues is a gentleman named Fred D. Smith, a former public servant and banker, and now the executive director of our emergency economic response unit at Operation HOPE, HOPE Coalition America. Fred once told me that basically the whole key to living a successful life was “managing pain.” Well, I agree.
Managing pain, legitimate suffering, is the key to living a successful and fulfilling life, And rejecting illegitimate pain and illegitimate suffering, the key to not ultimately going out of your cotton pick’en mind, or being admitted to a mental institution, or worse.
I think it was author Deepak Chopra who once said that love is the nurturing of one’s own or another spiritual growth, and that non-love was the repression of one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Said better than I could.
A practical example of how this applies to life situations, was a conversation I had about a year ago with a dear friend in New York City, who happened to be white. The short version is this friend of mine also happens to be an important man in the publishing world, and he had just finished a meeting with a group of assertive black folks that just about drove him out of his mind. I mean, the whole affair really bothered him. Hours later he was still all wound up about it. They were basically trying to make a federal case for reparations for black folk in America; the descendants of those who suffered through the pain and degradation of slavery.
Against this emotion-fused backdrop there was my dear and well intentioned friend, who just wanted them to, and I quote here, “stop all the whining, and just move on with their lives, etc, etc.” I say etc, etc, because this was exactly what I would have said a short 15 years ago myself. This from a black man who grew up in Compton, California and South Los Angeles, as the son of struggling yet hard working and loving parents, but one that did not yet recognize the true difference between being broke and being poor. Suffice to say, I do now…
Anyway, my friend missed the real message and the lesson altogether, from his visit with “my people.” He missed his own opportunity to learn. But practically speaking, given the power of his position in publishing I thought it vitally important to go back, and to help to make the distinction for him, with him. It also helps that this particular friend always genuinely wants to do the right thing, and when on occasion he doesn’t, like most all of us, it is simply because he didn’t know, what he didn’t know.
Now, before I get into the core point here, let me say this about the call for federal reparations for black America. We deserve it. Of course we do, on some level, but I am not amongst those asking for it or requesting it. Nor will I ever be. Jews requested and subsequently received a form of reparations following World War II. Native Indians requested and subsequently received a form of reparations tied to the very founding of America, and most recently it was the American Japanese, who were unjustly interned and treated as less than American, simply because they were Japanese, following World War II. Once again, there was a call for reparations, and it succeeded. A fact based case was made, plain and simple. Surely black America could make a case for slavery, and its opportunity cost, but in my view the timing is about 50 years too late. Next. Onward. Forward.
At most, what black folk need in 21st century America is a full ride on a first rate education, right through college, and possibly health insurance too. Beyond that, we should be left to our own devises. With a good education we can create and build whatever reality we want in an information age. Education is poverty’s mortal enemy. Enough said.
Now that I have that issue out of the way, let me say that the issue of giving, or not giving federal reparations, was and remains, the sideshow. The real show, was and remains the conversation itself. Specifically, the dialogue, between my conservative white friend, and my seemingly aggrieved black folks. This is where the real action is, and where successful pain management could have made all the difference in the world. This is the thing the human race must learn to get right – black folk and white folk, conservative and liberal, rich and poor. Managing pain. Leaving even our adversary, with their dignity.
To make the point short and sweet, I decided to ask my dear friend if he liked being married. Of course, he thought I had lost a screw in my own head. How could I possibly switch trac
ks from a conversation about him and black folk, to a conversation about him and his wife? Explaining that it was in fact the same conversation, I asked him again; “how do you like being married?” And finally he answered. He loved being married. Great. Assuming he wanted to keep it that way, I knew we finally had a way forward in our conversation, on firm and neutral ground, enriched with personal enlightened self-interest.
I told him to imagine a time, however rare it might be (smile), when he and his lovely wife had an argument. One brought on because maybe she felt emotionally aggrieved, and ultimately, hurt.
Now, the argument probably started with something simple, but quickly went off the rails because my friend thought that either what she said, or subsequently did, seemed absolutely….well, nuts. Crazy. As a man using what he considers to be logic, her response made no sense to him at all, and his natural reaction was thereafter to judge, and thereafter to proclaim, “I am right, and you, are out of your mind. Next.” Now, I explained, this might seem to work for a short time, but too much of being this “so called” right, and my friend would also be, well, alone too. He got the message.
What his wife needed was not agreement, but understanding. Better still, what she wanted was to have her feelings genuinely considered. We call this empathy. Not sympathy. Empathy.
And so, one that wants to be successfully married learns quickly to use a new language; a language rooted in love. And so, my friend is a smart man, and at some point in that argument he had to get to basically this point: “honey, I love you. I don’t fully understand what you are going through, and I cannot even say I can fully appreciate where you are coming from, but I can say without question that I love you, and I support you. And if it is important to you, and real to you, then it is important for me too. No one has a right to tell you how to feel. Period. I support you honey, 100%. Now, what can I do to help?” And there you have it.
Not only a prescription for a successful marriage, but a way to talk with aggrieved black folk too. Let me explain.
Black America is in a lot of pain, and for the most part, we have never had a real shot at healing, or even a sincere apology for that matter, yet alone any sense of true equity, all stemming from the pain and suffering of 300 some-odd-years of slavery, indentured servitude, sharecropping, Jim Crow and garden variety discrimination. Any even if there was someone who wanted to provide an answer today, it would be neither simple, nor quick. A complicated situation on all sides, and certainly I don’t have an easy answer.
But, this I do know – black folk talk for therapy.
What they wanted from my friend was not surrender, not sympathy, and maybe not even agreement. What they wanted was the dignity and respect that comes from listening, hearing, and ultimately just considering. What they wanted was empathy.
And so, my friend could have simply said this: “I hear you. I cannot say that I fully understand, and maybe I never will. But I do hear you, and I respect that for you these emotions, these feelings, and the pain, are all real. And if it is real for you, it is real for me. Period. You have a right to your feelings. I respect that. Now, …where do we go from here?”
And oddly enough, my friend would have gotten, in the end, to the exact same place he was seeking by cutting them off, cutting them down, and cutting to the chase; to a focus on real solutions, and moving forward.
But done this way, the way I suggest here, these so called aggrieved black folks, would have been agreeing with him, instead of simply arguing with him.
This is the power of dignity in action.
My pastor and mentor, the Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, pastor-emeritus of First A.M.E. Church, once told me to “talk without being offensive, and listen without being defensive, and learn to leave even your adversary, with their dignity.”
Good advise. Good advise for us all.
Onward, with HOPE