We each decide if we are to be the hero of the story our lives are writing. We each will hear calls to adventure and must decide whether we will rise to the occasion. We each struggle with challenges and learn, or not, from the experience. What will your story be? How will you meet the challenges you encounter?
In this short film, Matthew Winkler outlines Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey, a path we all must take.
We are bombarded daily with stories of fraud, cheating, self-interest, and dishonesty. People talking over each other, shoving, hostile. Everything is so charged and hot. Sometimes it feels like the people who stoop to these tactics might win the race and that we should do it, too. Otherwise, the ‘bad’ side will triumph. And yet.
Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Truth matters. Fairness and justice matter. On the foundations of these qualities, trust is built.
Explaining her ‘go high’ comment, Michelle Obama says,
My answer is yes. We need to keep trying to go high. Operating with integrity matters. It will matter forever. It is a tool.
At the same time, though, I want to be clear: Going high is something you do rather than merely feel. It’s not some call to be complacent and wait around for change, or to sit on the sidelines as others struggle. It is not about accepting the conditions of oppression or letting cruelty and power go unchallenged. The notion of going high shouldn’t raise any questions about whether we are obligated to fight for more fairness, decency, and justice in this world; rather, it’s about how we fight, how we go about trying to solve the problems we encounter, and how we sustain ourselves long enough to be effective rather than burn out. There are some who see this as an unfair and ineffective compromise, an extension of respectability politics, in which we conform to rather than challenge the rules in order to get by. Why, people rightly wonder, do we need to try to be so reasonable all the time?
I can see how some think that reason leaves no room for rage. I understand the perception that going high means that you somehow remove yourself and remain unbothered by all that might otherwise gall and provoke you.
But it’s not that at all.
When I first said those words…, I was neither removed nor unbothered. In fact, I was pretty agitated….
But where was my actual power? I knew it didn’t reside in my hurt and rage, at least as they existed in raw forms. My power lay in whatever I could manage to do with that hurt and rage, where I could take it. It hinged on whether or not I could elevate those feelings into something that would become harder for others to write off, which was a clear message, a call to action, and a result I was willing to work for.
That’s what going high is for me. It’s about taking an abstract and usually upsetting feeling and working to convert it into some sort of actionable plan, to move through the raw stuff and in the direction of a larger solution.
I want to be clear that this is a process, and not always a quick one. It can take time and patience. It’s okay to sit and stew for a while, to live inside the agitation caused by injustice or fear or grief, or to express your pain. It’s okay to grant yourself the space you need to recover or heal. For me, going high usually involves taking a pause before I react. It is a form of self-control, a line laid between our best and worst impulses. Going high is about resisting the temptation to participate in shallow fury and corrosive contempt and instead figuring out how to respond with a clear voice to whatever is shallow and corrosive around you. It’s what happens when you take a reaction and mature it into a response.
Because here’s the thing: Emotions are not plans. They don’t solve problems or right any wrongs. You can feel them—you will feel them, inevitably—but be careful about letting them guide you. Rage can be a dirty windshield. Hurt is like a broken steering wheel. Disappointment will only ride, sulking and unhelpful, in the back seat. If you don’t do something constructive with them, they’ll take you straight into a ditch.
My power has always hinged on my ability to keep myself out of the ditch.
It has been 54 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. As long as between the date of his death and 1914. A long, long time. Yet here we are still fighting for the world he envisioned, a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
We must press on.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told an overflowing crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968, where the city’s sanitation workers were striking. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.
Today, take a moment with his favorite hymn, the hymn he requested shortly before his death, “Take Me Home, Precious Lord’ and gather strength to continue his fight, all of our fight, toward the promised land:
Many of us have been afraid, and fear can naturally lead us to withdraw and retreat from the world. And this makes sense.
But sometimes the things that made us afraid continue and become our new normal, and then we must learn how to continue to do what needs to be done despite the fear.
This is courage.
We each have hidden wells of courage to draw from in trying times. We each have within us a voice that calls us to act, whether it is in caring for one another or speaking out against injustice.
In these times of disorder and distress, we confront new normals at every turn. And part of these new normals necessarily involves confronting and accepting your new reality and learning how to continue to make a positive difference in the world despite the challenges.
It’s ok to be afraid. Do what needs to be done anyway.
What is worth fighting for? Sometimes a battle is won in a courageous show of strength and derring do. A fire fighter runs into a burning building to save a child. A passerby stops to help victims of an accident. A pilot steers a damaged plane to safety.
But sometimes the battle requires showing up time after time with love, kindness, and patience. Not giving up on someone. Having faith that love will win. Believing that relationships can be salvaged.
Today, in the United States, we vote. We celebrate a country that allows its citizens input into this remarkable experiment of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We honor this country and its principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all. Our understanding of those concepts has evolved over time, and taken some steps back, but today let us be grateful for how far we’ve come and consider the steps that we each might take today and every day to make this country move closer to the ideals for which it stands. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to vote.
None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear—honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim. Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.
Sometimes we start down a path that feels, after a while, like a wrong turn. We think of turning back and taking a different path at the fork, but it’s a long way back, and we’ve made good time on the path we’re on. So we keep pushing forward. We still think we’re on the wrong path, but the fork in the road is even farther back and we’ve learned to get along on the path we’re on. Sometimes we make a mess of the path we’re on, or it becomes impenetrable. And yet we hesitate to start again. So we keep messing up or butting our heads against immovable objects. Because starting over sometimes feels like defeat rather than victory. But is it?
More from F. Scott Fitzgerald:
For what it’s worth…it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.
Isn’t that a lovely benediction?
Making the best of our lives, seeing things that startle us, feeling things we’ve never felt, meeting people with a different point of view, and having the courage to start again if we find ourselves on the wrong path. Yes, please. That.