Will Love Win?
On the heels of a tumultuous transfer of power in this country, we’ve seen relentless attacks and counter attacks, played and replayed by endless streams of media, analyzed, criticized, and morphed into inevitable renditions on SNL. Some of us react on the streets, in marches and protests nationwide, some peaceful, some less so.
Taraji P. Harrison, star of Hidden Figures, the true story of astronaut John Glenn’s flight to orbit the earth, recently accepted an award from the Screen Actors Guild for outstanding performance by an entire cast. She said: “This film is about unity. We stood on the shoulders of women (the “hidden figures”) who were three American heroes. They did not complain. They focused on solutions. This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and come together as a human race. When we do, we win. Love wins. Every time.”
Katherine Johnson (played by Harrison), Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, African American NASA employees, were the brains behind Glenn’s historic quest in 1962. The film shows Glenn refusing to proceed unless Johnson was consulted to verify every calculation of the computers, and crediting the success of his mission to the accuracy of her figures. At that time, despite her unique, unparalleled expertise, Johnson was still required to use the restrooms specified for “colored” people, located in another building across the NASA campus. She continued this practice until her boss scolded her for her lengthy absence one day. Johnson, with her matter of fact explanation in front of an entire room of white men, stated her case without complaint, inspiring a historic change in NASA’s standards of segregation. From that moment forward, she became a social pioneer whose mathematical and scientific genius “focused on solutions,” initiating a dramatic impact on America’s space program.
Johnson and the other “hidden figures” who stood beside her supported each other in making their contributions, regardless of the obvious challenges they faced. It took a while – nearly six decades – for them to be publicly recognized, and in the meantime, I doubt they spent much time considering if they would be properly acknowledged. Instead, it appears they just concentrated on becoming the best version of themselves, regardless of who noticed.
Unlike these women, I’ve been captivated by certain social movements that represented principles and beliefs I’m passionate about. The human tendency to want to belong to something dates back to our ancient beginnings, when our lives depended on being part of a tribe. And though we’ve advanced far beyond our earliest origins, it seems as though we carry residual tendencies to gather in mass, left over perhaps from when we were forced to fight off other clans, invaders, or whoever else appeared to threaten our survival.
Ancient instincts (if we let them) can move us to stand in righteous indignation against those who we perceive as different, in appearance, actions or beliefs. Sometimes, aligning with others under the same primal spell can fortify and inflate our desire to use force in various ways—in efforts to strengthen our positions, or simply have things our way.
“What I have to do is to see that I do not lend myself to the wrong, which I condemn.”—Henry David Thoreau
Violent protesters recently set fires, threw rocks, and lit fireworks in efforts to stop author Milo Yiannopoulos from giving a talk on the U.C. Berkley campus. Madonna, in a speech laced with expletives spoken at the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration, fired off, “I’m angry! I’ve thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” Ashley Judd hijacked the podium during Michael Moore’s speech to read a poem laced with Nazi references, r-rated rants, and innuendos about the victimization of women and blacks.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, professor of psychiatry, and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania says, “Anger is humanities greatest enemy…of all the emotions…, anger is the most primal and difficult to control…Anger interrupts the functioning of your frontal lobes. Not only do you lose the ability to be rational, you lose the awareness that you are acting in irrational ways.”
Of course, historically, there’ve been other types of gatherings that have created powerful change with a focus on “solutions,” as evidenced by peaceful movements led by Mahatma Gandhi—who freed a fifth of the human race from colonialism—and Martin Luther King, who championed the cause that galvanized the Civil Rights Act. King said, “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself.” Is this in essence what Harrison suggested in her acceptance speech? People who “put differences aside and come together as a human race?” No doubt many who recently marched in Washington felt the same way. Nonetheless, it seems the provocateurs were the ones who headlined the nightly news.
Operating as the epitome of dignity and grace for nearly a century, don’t you wonder what Katherine Johnson might think of recent, public roars of resistance? She didn’t let anything disturb her high-functioning frontal lobes—even though she had every opportunity (Glenn’s space flight occurred within months of King’s first civil rights marches). In a recent interview she was asked, “How did you do it?” She responded, “There is nothing to it—I was just doing my job.” In the process, she did more than her job – she overcame racism and sexism while advocating for solutions, and repeatedly overcame the forces against her without combating them. She kept opening her heart and letting “love win”.
Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun, once shared this Native American parable in one of her talks. “A grandmother spoke to her granddaughter about violence and cruelty and how it comes about. She said it was as if two wolves were fighting in her heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry. The other was understanding and kind. The child asked which wolf would win the fight in her heart. The grandmother replied, “The one I choose to feed.” Which wolf will prevail in our nation? Will love win?