I recently published a paper – [R]evolution Road – travelling the terrains of creativity, power and love – where I define [r]evolution as a daily practicing of consciously rooting our creativity and power in love, as a means of evolving our relationships with our selves, each other and the planet. I make a reference to a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” I have a sense that I’ve just stepped into a deeper understanding of this MLK statement.
We are a planet full of violent, toxic communities. We, the people, created and keep creating these communities. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves, each other and the planet?
I think MLK was saying that our relationships with power, justice and love are off-kilter. All over the place, people are seeking power without love. All over the place, people claiming to be loving are standing idly by in the face of injustices. All over the place, people are reaching for justice without love and in the process giving rise to greater injustices.
In western cultures, going back to the Romans, justice is represented by a goddess. She carries a sword for vengeance. She carries scales for considering competing claims. She represents divine law. If I worship a vengeful God (or Goddess) then so-called divine law becomes vengeance-based, no?
MLK steered us to remember to give justice a heart, a heart that justice will consistently seek to protect and honor. This practice of “correcting everything that stands against love” is an art. In the name of protecting love, we can find ourselves standing against it. In the name of love, we can be vengeful. In the name of love, we can practice hate. Lost in a haze of fear, we can lose sight of love altogether.
I recently attended an intensive workshop, Cultivating Women’s Leadership. We explored the importance of balancing the masculine and the feminine. We distilled feminine into compassion. We distilled masculine into accountability. Compassion refers to being receptive and open, to understanding and connection, to using our power (the capacity to act) to be nurturing and restorative.
The key, it seems, is not to get carried away with this acceptance, to ensure that acceptance doesn’t turn into passivity. Otherwise love becomes, as MLK says, sentimental and anemic. Accountability refers to taking responsibility by owning our actions and firmly insisting others do the same. Motivated by love we might forgive. Motivated by accountability we might firmly (but not violently) force people to own up to what they have done. Motivated by accountability, we might give an apology and find concrete ways to repair damage we have done, if possible. For some damages and hurt, no adequate reparation exists.
Compassion is one way of talking about love. Accountability is one way of talking about justice. The two are inextricably entwined. MLK asked us to root our power in both love and justice, in compassion and accountability, in the feminine and masculine.
With this in mind, I’ve inserted justice into my definition of [r]evolution – a daily practicing of consciously rooting our creativity and power in love and justice, as a means of evolving our relationships with our selves, each other and the planet.
So what? I’ve changed a definition. Well, at one level it is just wordplay. And wordplay for myself, at that. I try to use [r]evolution as my compass for how I live my life. Re-articulating what I mean by [r]evolution is me fine-tuning my compass.
This fine-tuning, however, has got me thinking about the world around me.
I’m thinking, for example, about the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In particular, I’m thinking about Kazu Haga’s piece, Honoring the Anger in Ferguson. Haga’s writing brings me straight back to MLK’s directive about power, love and justice. This directive calls on us to stand firmly in the truth of what exists in our hearts – including rage, pain and grief.
We must not try and diminish this truth, as people do when they say “Calm down, calm down!!” I think of this as standing in the fire. Rooting our power in love and justice calls on us to stand in the fire and to bear witness what we see in the fire. It further calls upon us to take action in a way that holds ourselves and others accountable. To be truly powerful, MLK was steering us to root this accountability in love, so that we don’t respond to abuse with abuse, harm with harm.
How do we steadfastly confront people who are standing against love? What does it mean to you, in practice, to root your creativity and power in love and justice? What can you – or any of us – do to honor the anger in Ferguson? What can we – any and all of us – do to stand up for both justice and love, in response to police violence and abuse of power anywhere in the US?
Veena – thank you, once again, for your insightful words. More serendipity – yesterday I was pondering this piece on Anger by David Whyte, which has echoes for me of your mention of “standing in the fire”. I’ve pasted it below for you. With love
at its heart, is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when it reaches the lost surface of our mind or our body’s incapacity to hold it, or the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only the incoherent physical incapacity to sustain this deep form of care in our outer daily life; the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.
What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing, in the face of our love for a wife, in the depth of our caring for a son, in our wanting the best, in the face of simply being alive and loving those with whom we live.
Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling there is something profoundly wrong with this powerlessness and vulnerability; anger too often finds its voice strangely, through our incoherence and through our inability to speak, but anger in its pure state is the measure of the way we are implicated in the world and made vulnerable through love in all its specifics: a daughter, a house, a family, an enterprise, a land or a colleague. Anger turns to violence and violent speech when the mind refuses to countenance the vulnerability of the body in its love for all these outer things – we are often abused or have been abused by those who love us but have no vehicle to carry its understanding, who have no outer emblems of their inner care or even their own wanting to be wanted. Lacking any outer vehicle for the expression of this inner rawness they are simply overwhelmed by the elemental nature of love’s vulnerability. In their helplessness they turn their violence on the very people who are the outer representation of this inner lack of control.
But anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here, it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it. What we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality by being a complete and absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence.
©2014 David Whyte Excerpted from ‘ANGER’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning in Everyday Words
Noreen! Thank you very much for taking the time to send through this very insightful response. Serendipity, indeed. The David Whyte helped me clarify some of my thinking about anger. Gratitude. In solidarity. Love. Veena