Wednesday, December 10, 2008


¡Hola! Everybody... Today, I will be at an all-day conference at a prison. I have been asked to speak and I take great pleasure in the knowledge that I was incarcerated in the very same prison that is know asking me to share my “expertise.” I take pleasure in the fact that those who would judge me, and people like me, have a hard time justifying their judgment of me and in that way, I strike a blow for true justice... in my own small way.

My friend, Karen, wrote an excellent blog today and my blog today is somewhat connected. I wrote this about a year ago and it bears reposting...

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-=[ The Other ]=-

Today’s blog photo was censored. An editor at the Scranton Times-Tribune spiked Draughon’s tribute to Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student who was tortured and beaten to death because of his sexual orientation. Draughon’s editor was “just uncomfortable comparing Shepard with Christ.”

I was recently reminded of an incident early in my life. When I was in elementary school, a classmate’s father interrupted the class. He was clearly intoxicated on heroin, nodding in mid-sentence, saliva collecting at the corners of his mouth. The teacher tried to make the best of a difficult situation, trying to usher the father outside the class in order to continue the conversation there, but he wouldn’t budge. He vacillated from unintelligible mumbling to extreme displays of arrogance. His pants were torn.

It got to the point where the situation escalated out of control, with everyone, including myself, laughing at the poor boy whose father had just humiliated him.

We all knew he was a junkie – a heroin addict – there were more than enough of them in our neighborhood. We knew what the nodding, drooling was about, and we laughed and ridiculed our classmate.

Including me.

And I disliked myself for it…

You see, this had happened to me too. My father was also a heroin addict and the children on our street, my friends, one day made a circle around me while they sang, “Your father’s a junkie, your father’s a junkie… ” It was a cruel and humiliating experience for me. One that would stay branded in my brain for life. Yet, when it happened to someone else, there I was laughing. It didn’t feel right.

So, I went to my classmate’s side and defended him. Immediately I too became the other and was once again given outsider status – the one who defended the junkie’s kid. I wish I could say that my classmate and I became friends, connected as we were, but he hated me for defending him, thinking I was feeling sorry for him. Or perhaps, I reminded him of something he would have rather forgotten.

Children can be cruel sometimes, but they only mirror the values taught to them by adults. As a society, we also look for scapegoats, for the outsiders to blame and ridicule. This is the dialectic of history, how evil wins. We like to point to the Hitlers, to the monsters of history, as the cause for human misery, but people, good people, have to be complicit in their crimes in order for human suffering to exist. After World War I, Germany was a country that was morally defeated and it was so economically devastated that its citizens had to load German marks by the wheelbarrow in order to buy a loaf of bread! The mark, the German currency, was so useless that its citizens would use it to burn in their fireplace for heat. I am not exaggerating.

There was a lot of fear, anger, and hunger going around and the people of that nation were ripe for someone like Hitler and his nationalistic movement. He and his people created a scapegoat, The Other. The others were the Jews, the intellectuals, the homosexuals and immigrants who were easy targets to blame for the German’s misery. Eventually, Hitler and his propaganda machine were able to turn this blind hate to their purposes and commit one of the most heinous acts of cruelty and throw the world into war.

The same was done during the Black Holocaust and in holocausts throughout time and in the world today. Once we turn people into The Other -- something we can fear and blame -- then the other ceases to be a human and becomes a thing. They become objects: a “gay,” a “nigger,” an “illegal,” a “felon,” a “wetback,” or a spic. I don’t care whether we call it a Jew, an illegal immigrant, or a nigger, it ceases to be human and it becomes the receptacle for our fears and our rage. And we lash out at them in righteous indignation for our own suffering. If we only got rid of them niggers, Jews, or immigrants, we seem to be saying, my life would be better. They are the cause of my suffering.

Let’s forget that the propaganda sold to us throughout time has always been founded in untruths. Let’s forget for a moment that the things -- the Others -- are human being just like you, who probably share more in common with you than you care to admit. Let’s forget all of that. The truth of the matter is that when you fear and hate something or someone, it’s more likely because they are just like you.

I am afraid of you because you are just like me.

Im willing to bet that many of my classmates lived in homes where drugs, alcohol, and poverty were commonplace. I grew up in slums where all this was common enough. But we were all ashamed of it. If we could make somebody else the object of our shame, then we could separate ourselves from the humiliation we could feel inside ourselves. When we place an emphasis on how we are different, then we lay the groundwork for prejudice, hate, and fear-based living. Politicians are infamous for exploiting fear, hate and shame for their own purposes.

We live in a culture of fear and it is those people out there -- the others -- that are responsible for our suffering and are a a threat to our way of life. If we only got rid of those people, we too seem to be saying, then our lives would be better.

This is what we teach our children.

Want to get to know yourself? Try to remember the following in your daily life: When you’re focusing on differences, it is often because you’re afraid of something in yourself. Dwelling solely on differences creates separateness and increases fear (even while it gives you a false sense of security). Seeking commonalities develops compassion and understanding, and increases love. When you’re judging another, it is probably a good indication that you’re denying that very thing in yourself.

When you become attached to fixing or changing another, then you’re entering the world of addiction, by seeing your happiness as dependent on another human beings behavior.

Ego-based living is centered on three factors: Guilt, shame, and fear.

Guilt. Guilt is the belief we have done something wrong, bad, and unforgivable. Guilt is based on the belief that the past is inescapable and determines the future.

Shame. As guilt increases, we not only believe we have done something bad, we begin to believe we are bad.

Fear. Because guilt and shame create the resulting feelings that we have done something wrong and that we are something wrong, we become fearful of being punished. For many, this manifests itself as feeling they are unworthy of love.

Guilt, fear, and shame come together is a twisted dance that leaves us with feelings of emptiness, anxiety, anger and hopelessness. All we need then is someone or some thing to blame it on and we create suffering of such magnitude, it is almost incomprehensible.

Is this what we truly want?



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