Draw a Larger Circle

Dr. Pauli Murray, "I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods. When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them." An American Credo

I intend to do my part through the power of persuasion, by spiritual resistance, by the power of my pen, and by inviting the violence upon my own body. For what is life itself without the freedom to walk proudly before God and man and to glorify creation through the genius of self-expression? I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods. When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind. I shall neither supplicate, threaten, nor cajole my country or her people. With humility but with pride I shall offer one small life, whether in foxhole or in wheatfield, for whatever it is worth, to fulfill the prophecy that all men are created equal.

Dr. Pauli Murray, An American Credo

Born in 1910 Dr. Pauli Murray outgrew every box that tried to contain her. In 1945 shortly after graduating from Howard Law School she wrote, “I will resist every attempt to categorize me, to place me in some caste, or to assign me to some segregated pigeonhole.” And she did resist all attempts to keep her confined by colour or gender, labels like Woman, Black, Native, White, Lesbian, would not stop her from earning degrees at Hunter College, Howard University, the University of California at Berkeley, Yale, and the General Theological Seminary, or from becoming the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest at age 63.

Dr. Murray’s legal groundwork laid the foundation for ending discrimination on the basis of gender. In 1940 she was arrested in Virginia for refusing to move to the ‘coloured’ seats at the back of the bus, fifteen years before Rosa Parks made the action famous. Inspired by Christ and Gandhi she introduced non-violent protest to the Black civil rights movement ten years before Martin Luther King, later mentoring him while challenging the movement for how it excluded women from positions of power or leadership. A lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, openly gay, and extraordinarily gifted why has Dr. Pauli Murray been overlooked in history books and common knowledge? There are no good answers.

The very premise of citizenship, it’s bedrock and foundation is that all are created equal, sadly a truth only matters if we act as though it does. How can we change ourselves and be better citizens? Start with learning the stories of leaders like Dr. Pauli Murray, tell them to your children and your children’s children.  Widen your circles to include others. Expand your understanding with diverse voices. Offer up the small stone of your life to the vision of a just, equitable, and compassionate world.

Citizenship is not a small circle, it is bigger than personal freedom, large enough to contain the world. Refuse any definition of citizenship that does not include everyone, there is no ‘us’ or ‘them’, there is only us.

We can’t leave this work to a brave few like Dr. Pauli Murray, it is up to each of us to look at who isn’t represented and extend a welcome. Have the presence of mind to ask one of the most important questions any citizen can: Who is not invited?

This question is the basis of inclusion, diversity, and real democracy. Start asking at every gathering and meeting, in board rooms and class rooms and on our streets: who is not invited, who was not included, what faces and stories were left out or overlooked?

Thing is, the space outside the circle was big enough for everyone all along. Remember when we were kids and the teacher would get us to take two giant steps back so everyone could fit? All we need to do to make a more inclusive world is take a couple steps back and draw a larger circle.

Draw A Larger Circle | Oh My! Handmade

Further Reading:

Make a Bigger Pie

Pie Making Party, Community Change, Make a Bigger Pie

We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries – we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?…Something has happened where we’ve decided on a personal level that it’s all right to abdicate our individual responsibility to the common good and let government worry about the common good while we all go about our individual self-interested business and struggle to gratify our various appetites.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

The more individuals behave like businesses, focusing on the needs and wants of the bottom line, the more competitive and consumerist we become. Citizens get lazy and feel entitled to governance but no longer choose to be responsible for it’s daily actions. No one is willing to make the pie (let alone share it) but everyone wants to assert their claim on a bigger, and bigger slice. 

What happens when we want the benefits of democracy without the risks of citizenship? Citizens stop helping out and start complaining, focusing on problems instead of solutions while becoming ever more disenchanted, waiting for ‘someone to DO something’ already. We start seeking a target to blame for the way things are without wanting to look in the mirror and face the truth: that someone is us. 

How can we save ourselves, our governments, and systems from narcissism and self-indulgence? We could start making the pie. Let’s turn the leftovers of our lives and the messes we’ve inherited in stone soup and jumbleberry pies. Civic engagement is served as well (or better!) by a community pie party as anything else. Maybe it is a silly oversimplification to think that we would all be bettered for gathering up after a day of braving thorns and harvesting berries so we can offer up a slice of goodness to each other with work stained hands – but this small sweet token of home and comfort could be the thing we’ve been truly hungry for all along. 

Why beg for crumbs when we can make a bigger pie?  

Kindness, Rightness & the art of being equally wrong

KindnessRightness

I do not mean to encourage the guilt-ridden thinking that is always too glad to be “wrong” in everything. This too is an evasion of responsibility, because every form of oversimplification tends to make decisions ultimately meaningless. We must try to accept ourselves, whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it.

We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by somebody else.

Thomas Merton

Agreeing that there is no “right way” is a good start towards respect for the universally equal right to be wrong. Recognizing that we are all equally wrong protects us from living in fear of failure and never learning from the consequences of choice or become fundamentalist in our beliefs. How many problems from the political to personal can be traced, in part, to an inability to accept responsibility for being wrong? Racism or the treatment of Indigenous people are big examples of wrongs that continue to cause harm, largely because of many who want to be right about the world without listening to the complex reality of those sharing that world with them. Zoom in to find hundreds of smaller examples – from the neighbours who no longer talk because of a disagreement, to the family living in a silent Cold War because no one wants to be the first to change.

Since trying to be right hasn’t gotten most of us anywhere what if, at least for now, we just agreed to be okay with being equally wrong? Maybe then we could start to see each other (and ourselves) as real people.  In his essay on non-violence, The Root of War is Fear from New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes:

But someone will say: “If we once recognize that we are all equally wrong, all political action will instantly be paralyzed. We can only act when we assume that we are in the right.” On the contrary, I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.”

It is tough to accept that we might be wrong or can’t solve everything alone with our perfect plans, this is even harder when someone else is pointing it out critically! Working to let go of our attachment to rightness helps us find the security to not react defensively and readily accept that even our purest hearted intentions might cause harm. Being wrong does not make us bad people, just people – we can all find some comfort in that.

I think that we have forgotten the option of restraint and that it is no longer the survival of the fittest that is called for, but the survival of compassion…for me it’s a time of listening, a time to go underground, and I don’t know what it will yield, but I trust it. I think that anytime you go into a landscape of story or art, hopefully, the outcome will be a literature of compassion, something that causes us to pause and think about something in a different, fresh way. The power of story is that it bypasses rhetoric and pierces the heart. It goes into the cells.

Terry Tempest Williams

As our world becomes more complex and species, including humans, struggle to adapt the survival of compassion becomes a study that may help us find answers about how to live well together.  By questioning common definitions of strength and looking to the world for examples of species survival we can see that cooperation and compassion also lead to evolution. We can’t rewrite history and change how some of our ancestors treated this world, or took survival of the fittest to mean survival of the most vicious and exploitative. We can choose to evaluate and reflect on our actions right now and how what we do, value, or support, can cause harm or support healing. Could it be that we’ve misunderstood Darwin all along and neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas is right:

“We’ve come up with the idea that ‘survival of the fittest’ means that the strongest man wins, when what actually wins is highly collective, communal behavior.”

Resources:

Sign up to play Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest next coopetition starts April 11

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation 

Terry Tempest Williams and Ona Siporin: A Conversation 

James Doty’s Helper’s High, Nautilus Magazine 

#365DaysofPresence Compassion Archive: