Monday, February 8, 2021

A Book for Our Time

See No Stranger
, a memoir by Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, filmmaker and civil rights lawyer, is about learning to love in times of turmoil. Kaur asks us to look at others and say, “You are a part of me I do not yet know.” She knows love as revolutionary--an active, public force that can create new possibilities for our communities, our world, and ourselves. 

Kaur believes we are at a crossroads in America where we can choose to begin to birth a nation that has never been; one that is multiracial, multifaith, and multigendered; where power is shared, and we protect the dignity of every person. She knows the practice of revolutionary love leads us to wonder, grieve, fight, rage, listen, reimagine, breathe, heal, forgive and reconcile.

Wondering about others begins the practice of revolutionary love for it enables our instinct for empathy. Wonder about others even when they do not wonder about you, and protect others when they are in harms way. We can train our eyes to see others differently, to see no stranger. We become what we practice. 

Kaur’s memoire increases understanding of how important it is to sit with our pain and grieve. Kaur states, “Unresolved grief inside a person is tragic; unresolved grief inside a nation is catastrophic: It releases enormous aggression.” 

Kaur teaches how a warrior sage fights and asks, “What is your sword, your Kirpan? What can you use to fight on behalf of others—your pen, your voice, your art, your pocket book, your presence.” She goes on to describe how to protect ourselves, how to center ourselves, and who we need to stand by our side. 

Of rage Kaur says: “There are many ways to confront one’s opponents without anger. But in the case of ongoing social injustices, expressing outrage is often the only way to be heard. …perhaps it is up to the rest of us to train our ears to hear beyond hearing, …so that we can discern the truth of the pain of injustice and confront our own complicity and responsibility.” 

Kaur writes, “The more I listen, the more I understand. I am persuaded that there is no such thing as monsters in this world, only human beings who are wounded. I start to gain critical information about how we can respond to greed, insecurity, anxiety or blindness in ways that hold them accountable and fight the institutions that empower them. Listening enables us to fight in smarter ways for justice—not only to remove bad actors from power but to change the cultures that radicalize them. Listening is how we succeed.” 

Kaur believes, “To undo the injustice, we have to imagine new institutions--and step in to lead them. …When we hold fast to a vision of the world as it ought to be, we can better discern which institutions can be reimagined, and which cannot.” And, “…the labor of institutional change required not months or years, but decades.” 

At the funeral for those killed in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre in 2012, Amardeep Singh Bhalla, told Kaur, “We may not live to see the fruits of our labor in our lifetime, but we labor anyway.” 

Kaur understands “…breathing keeps us laboring.” And, “Laboring in love is how we birth the world to come.” When we anchor ourselves in breadth our minds are called to the present moment, the here and now, where work and change happens. 

For healing Kaur asks, “Let us see ourselves as part of a larger picture. …For there is no greater gift than to be a part of a movement larger than ourselves. That means that we only need to be responsible for our small patch of sky, our specific area of influence. We need only to shine our particular point of light, long and steady…” 

Forgiveness was a gift Kaur gave herself at the end of a long internal healing process. 

Kaur believes America needs to reconcile with its suppressed memories and histories of the traumas it had caused. “…our willful forgetting keeps re-creating the conditions for all that suppressed grief, rage, and shame to erupt in cycles of violence. America needs to reconcile with itself and do the work of apology: To say to indigenous, black and brown people, we take full ownership for what we did. …It is time to seek out the deepest wisdom of those who have been most silenced by the forces of history.” 

Transition is the most painful and dangerous stage, but it’s also where we begin to see what comes into the space we open up. Fresh horrors arrive daily, but our responses are smarter and our solidarity deeper than ever before. 

Kaur asks us to “Imagine the world we will birth when we see no stranger.” She admits, “Loving our opponents is hard. If we cannot summon love for all of our opponents in every moment, we have not failed. Revolutionary love is not an all-or-nothing metric. It is an ethic that sometimes feels like an aspiration rather than a reality. But the aspiration to love our opponents is itself revolutionary. It opens up space for us to let other people love those opponents when we cannot. …Laboring in love is how we birth the world to come.”

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