"Be good to each other." As I've watched the events of the last month unfold in the US and around the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, I keep coming back to that thought - "be good to each other." But not just be good when we feel like it, and not just be good to others that look like us, talk like us, and do what we do. That's easy, and in fact it's part of the problem we continue to struggle with today. No, to truly embrace our humanity we need to be good to all others.
I associate the phrase "be good to each other" with Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161 - 180. What does a Roman Emperor who lived more than 1,800 years ago have to do with the issue of modern systemic racism? Well, in some ways nothing. In other ways, everything. For racism is nothing but a symptom of the way we think about ourselves in relation to other people. And from all accounts, Marcus Aurelius, despite his station in life, stood for humility for self and generosity toward others.
"Be good to each other, that was the prevailing belief of Marcus’s life. A disease like the plague, “can only threaten your life,” he said in Meditations, but evil, selfishness, pride, hypocrisy, fear—these things “attack our humanity.”"(1)
The passage above comes from an article written in March by Ryan Holiday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, where Holiday described in detail how Marcus Aurelius dealt with the Antonine plague of 165 - 180. But I submit that the passage has broader application and is entirely relevant to the issue of racism. Again, what is racism if not a function of fear and selfishness, manifesting itself in behaviors ranging from wrong to evil? These things attack our humanity. And without humanity, societies devolve into lawlessness, chaos, and yes, oppression.
It's extremely disappointing that these issues persist so broadly and deeply more than 50 years after the remarkable nonviolent activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It's also disappointing that the policing reforms proposed in the wake of the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992 failed to take hold. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps.
Perhaps each of us just need to be that which we want to see in the world. To be good to each other - all of each other - every day. To set aside what the others may think and do what's right. To see our own bias and summon the courage to do better. To be open to being wrong and embrace the chance to start over. To discourage exclusivity and "us" and "them," and instead embrace our humanity and encourage inclusivity and diversity. To lead with our behavior and actions. And then do it again, and again, and again. Every day.
In the spirit of my own humility, I want to be clear that I'm not a social commentator and don't claim to be well versed in social matters. I certainly don't have any profound solutions. And I'm as prone as anyone to missteps and mistakes, to blind spots, to not seeing how my behaviors, words and actions can affect others - in fact, I think this is especially true when I consider the systems that govern our lives today. And I can see how the disenfranchised might look at this note and say that I do not understand and it's not enough and we need to do more now. I get that. History suggests we need action.
Still, we all encounter "moments of truth,” when the universe asks us to answer the question: contribute to the problem, or silently stand by, or walk away, or make things better? And if there were one thing that I could etch into my mind, that would always be there when the moment of truth arrives? Be good to each other. Our culture needs a fresh start, and it seems like that would be a good place to begin.
Please, be good to each other.