Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander. -Sign in the Holocaust Museum, Washington DC
I have always been involved in political, social and moral causes since I was 11 or 12 years old. My parents went a bit crazy when I marched for civil rights as a 12 year old. They went even crazier when I marched for women’s rights as a 14 year old and I threatened to burn my bra. These were not acts of a rebellious teenager, but the acts of someone who felt the injustices deeply, who had felt like an outcast all of her life and tended to identify with these causes on a personal level. From the age of 12 through my twenties, I was actively involved in these causes. While this was a good thing, it also worked as another distraction from my deep inner pain.
But when my marriage ended in 1987 and I had to come face to face with the fact that I was a complete and utter mess, I had to step away from the world’s stage and take care of me and my kids.
As I talk about in a lot of posts on here and in the “About GPYP” section, I went inward and worked out the garbage and worked in the good stuff. I did not vote in the 1988 election or any of the local elections in 88, 89, 90 or 91. I stopped reading newspapers, I stopped watching TV. I missed entire runs of shows that made television history. My work was to do my inner work, do my affirmative work and go to work, therapy and support groups and take care of my kids. That was my life.Period. I was waging a war against my past while trying to build a nice present and a successful future. It took up all my time and energy. I was like a person with a toothache. My pain was all I could think about.
At the end of 1991, I started to tune back into the political, moral and social issues of the day. But I had to be careful not to get so involved with them I ignored my own stuff (as I had done before) and not to replace taking care of me with taking care of other people. I had to balance and be vigilant about my altruism versus my codependency. It is sometimes quite the balancing act.
I slowly put the activism back in my life knowing that I had a responsibility to the world community. I learned to balance that with the responsibility I owed to myself and my kids.
Gandhi said to be the change you want to see in the world and that is where I had started. I tended to my own back yard to be sure it was healthy and happy and whole. I WAS the change I wanted to see in my life.
But it didn’t end there. I had a responsibility to the world, to care about things that were wrong and to lend my voice and my action to it. I didn’t wait until I was fully healed, as that would be years and years, but I learned to balance my activism and charitable work with my personal journey. It absolutely HAS to be that way.
We also have a duty to pass our moral fiber onto our children. I grew up in the Bronx. I lived in an area where I had exposure and friends of every ethnic and religious background. I was treated well by everyone outside my family. People outside my house made me feel welcome and that I belonged (unlike the people inside my house). I felt a sense of duty to civil rights and to eradicating any type of prejudice from my life.
My parents could be bigots and racists (they tended to vocalize it only when other bigots and racists were around.). I railed against that at the age of 12. I marched, as the only small blonde girl, in a civil rights march. It was emotional and positive and I loved it. As I was leaving, one man handed me a leather wrist band with the African colors on it. When I wore it home, my parents threw it in the garbage. At night, when everyone was asleep, I snuck outside and retrieved it from the garbage pail. The next day they cut it up.
But I didn’t stop my work. I went to a Baptist church and sang and gave my small allowance money to their church. One Sunday I ditched my Catholic service for the Baptist service and my parents were livid. Afraid to go home, I went to my friend’s house to wait for her to change her Sunday clothes. Her elderly grandfather was sitting in the living room listening to music that touched my heart. I asked him what it was and he said it was Robert Johnson. He told me about Robert Johnson and the blues and played a few more records for me. They were old and scratched 78s but he was very careful with them. By the time my friend was ready, I didn’t want to leave and I returned again and again to learn about the blues and listen to Robert Johnson. A little white girl and an old black man forged a friendship around the blues. I’ve never forgotten it and remain a blues fan to this day.
When I was 15 I was invited to my first Seder and told about the history of the Hebrews that was not taught in my school or church. I was riveted by the stories which were never taught anywhere where I normally learned things.
I learned to cook Italian food from a woman who barely spoke English but told me, in halting English, about World War II in Sicily. I learned to cook Spanish dishes from a friend whose mother shared with me the appalling conditions she fled in El Salvador.
In each house I shared a little of what I knew though I felt that, compared to them, it wasn’t much.
In each house I was warmly welcomed and given some knowledge of a culture I would not have otherwise known. How could I hate anyone because of their ethnic background or color or religion when to hate them would be to cut myself off from what they had to offer and to cut them off from what I had to offer?
My boys, on the other hand, were raised in a small town in Massachusetts where there were not a lot of minorities. I worked in the technology field in central Massachusetts and the small towns that surrounded the tech hubs were mostly upscale and mostly white. Although we visited New York a lot, it’s not the same as growing up with diversity. I spent their childhoods preaching acceptance and non-racist, non-sexist, non-bigoted views. It was my duty. I could not ignore that sexism, racism and bigotry exists in the world even though they didn’t encounter very much in very liberal central Massachusetts and certainly were not the target of any of it. But I wanted them to know it was wrong.
I also preached kindness to animals and the importance of charitable works. Care about others. Care about the less fortunate. Share what you have when you can. Care about what happens in the world. Vote. Stay abreast of politics. It was my responsibility as a parent to at least try to make them care.
I taught them not to appropriate other cultures without a sense of obligation to that culture. I said do not listen to the music, copy the styles or the slang of others without a sense of gratitude for that and a duty to give back.
I received so much from other cultures by enjoying the music, the food, the style, the way of talking, dancing, etc etc. It is not JUST about TAKING from other cultures. It is also about giving back. If you listen to the music, eat the food, copy the styles, enjoy the rich gifts of other cultures, give back. And give generously. DO NOT JUST TAKE. Give your time, your energy, and your awareness. Argue with others on the side of equality for all, civil rights, human rights, etc.
Do your part.
I do not bring my political, social or moral issues to my GPYP work. I have that work and I do my part but GPYP is a separate thing for me and I do not wish to blur it by preaching my politics, my social causes or my morals through this medium because human pain is human pain and grief and loss is a universal experience no matter what you believe or where you come from or how you vote. I refuse to politicize this work. I don’t care what organizations you volunteer for or what political group you donate money to or what church you go to. Just have some kind of work that is benefiting the world. Some act of selfless kindness. Altruism is a part of every healthy and functioning individual.
I do not politicize or preach my own brand of beliefs through GPYP, however, GPYP is a work itself.
Most people who come to my classes and seminars know that in my day job, I am a highly paid lawyer. I also have my real estate broker’s license and I usually get paid a hefty fee to speak. However, I give scholarships to my seminars, I write this blog every day, I answer a ton of email every day, and I do a lot of GPYP work that is completely free of charge.
I do this work to get the message of hope out there. What I charge for seminars and audio lessons and coaching helps me break even and pay for costs (though I haven’t come close to breaking even yet). Doing this is NOT about the money. It is about letting other people know I’ve been where you’ve been and you can get out. There’s really no other reason for me to do this. It’s hard work and it take a lot of time out of my very busy days.
I could have a nice, comfortable life without doing this, but I feel I cannot keep my message to myself. And I must not. I escaped pain and unhappiness and a destructive lifestyle. I became very successful. I need to tell others how I did it and coach them to do it too.
If you are following a program or reading a book that does NOT recommend caring about others, passing it on, paying it forward or caring about the world once you have started to make headway, something is terribly wrong with your program.
We must give to others as we have been given. If you are reading this, you have been given.
It IS important and vital we do our work FIRST. If we are giant, gaping holes it is hard to be of use to anyone else. We MUST go inward and we must do the work of working out the garbage of the past. At the same time we need to affirm and visualize our positive future and act as if we are already there. It IS a three prong process: emotional, cognitive and behavioral. You must do work on all three levels. If anyone tells you otherwise, that is nonsense.
As you do your work stay cognizant of the fact that as you get better, you have a duty to do some good in the world. In addition to GPYP I belong to several charitiable organizations, stay involved in the political process and stay active on the world’s issues to NOT be a bystander.
Once you start to feel better in your own skin, you owe it to the world to get out there and make a positive difference. Do NOT be a victim. Do NOT be a perpertrator.