From Anger to Making a Lasting Difference

reposted with permission from the Calgary Herald

I am a 62-year-old black man who is both an American citizen by birth and a Canadian citizen by choice, and I have something to say about George Floyd’s gut-wrenching public death and, more importantly, I have something to say about where we go from here.

First, let me be clear that I am not purporting to speak for any group, organization, race, or nationality. Speaking out for anyone other than for myself would be irresponsible and disingenuous of me — this is just one person speaking out to anyone willing to listen.

I also appreciate that anyone who is still reading this has had to fight off the human brain’s addiction to getting all their daily news through witty tweets or Instagram posts. What I have to say about the impact of the final eight minutes and 46 seconds of a man’s life could not be condensed into 280 characters.

I am in mourning — or said more fully and borrowing from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary — I am in a period of time during which signs of grief are shown.

After five days of consuming myself in all the coverage of Mr. Floyd’s tragic death and its aftermath, I find myself vacillating between deep sadness and seething anger.

I hear that little voice in my head asking the same types of endless questions that my three-year-old grandson asks me that all start with “why, how or when.” A child’s questions come out as authentic expressions of wonder and pursuit for real answers, like “Papa B, why is the sky blue? Or how come that bug stopped moving after I touched it? Or when can I have more ice cream?”

Those questions are in stark contrast to my own adult “why, how, or when” questions. Today my questions have a biting edge to them and come out in a loud screaming voice that cries, “Why does this keep happening to people of colour?” or “How do we get them to stop treating us this way?” or “When will society finally change?”

Over these past several days, I have come to realize that, whether asked by a three-year-old boy or a 62-year-old man, none of these “why, how or when” questions are making any lasting difference.

When I am honest with myself, I see how deadened and cynical I have become dealing with situations like George Floyd’s inexcusable death. I see that I operate from the same M.O. (modus operandi) time after time.

It usually goes something like this: I see something on social media, like what happened on May 25, that truly upsets me. I move from a state of shock to a state of sadness and then I become angry. Next, I notice I move through a sense of hope, saying, “I hope someone will finally do something so that this doesn’t ever happen again.” Then, over time I notice that the news cycle has moved on to something else and I have the experience that I’ve built up another layer of scar tissue on my skin that insulates me until the next “George Floyd Outrage” moment comes along. When that “next outrage” happens (because there’s always another one), I replay this whole familiar M.O. again and again, wishing that I had the courage of the Howard Beale character in the movie Network who implored everyone watching him live on TV to say: “I’m a human being goddammit and I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” (that clip is worth watching again on YouTube).

To be straight with you, there are lots of good reasons for me to travel down the “I’m mad as hell” road — and make no mistake, I am still mad as hell and I do support all the lawful protesting that is happening (to be clear, I consider looting distinct from protesting and I’m not at all condoning any form of illegal behaviour).

One of my commitments in writing this is to offer anyone else who finds themselves upset or stuck like I was with a possible pathway out (note: I am deliberating using the word “offer” here. I am not telling anyone what they should or should not do).

My offer lies in stealing a line from the second part of Howard Beale’s movie rant, the part where he shouts “I’m a human being and I am not going to take this anymore.”

As I see it, humanity is standing in front of two closed doors. Speaking for myself, Door No. 1 has me continue being a seething angry black man who is pretending that I have it all together. This business-as-usual pathway is one that requires no real thinking on my part. All I have to do when I walk through Door No. 1 are the same things I’ve been doing most of my life, automatically blaming others for everything that doesn’t work in the world.

Conversely, there is another option called Door No. 2. Opening this door leads me down a pathway where I and I alone get to say how my life and how the lives of others around me will go. Door No. 2 is a life where, regardless of the circumstances that life throws my way (and believe these are harsh, uncertain circumstances that have plagued us for literally hundreds of years), regardless of what is outside of my immediate control, I promise myself and whoever else will listen that I will be the cause of how life around me goes.

I realize that may sound like wishful positive thinking to some or it may even sound like I am being naïve or perhaps even self-righteous. If I have given you that experience, I’ve missed making any lasting difference with you and that won’t sway me from the commitment I am promising to live my own life from.

I initially wrote this piece to yell at the world and to then lay out all my reasons as to who was right and who was wrong about what happened to George Floyd.

However, since May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd died (which poignantly was also U.S. Memorial Day) something has begun to emerge newly for me.

I am discovering that even small actions such as writing this public letter to you are the beginning of making the kind of difference that I am committed to living for myself, for my wife and daughter, for our grandkids, and for the world.

I leave you with a personal challenge: are you willing to take at least one new action today that will make a profound difference in the quality of the lives of someone you love and care for?

Regardless of your response to this challenge, the fact that you have given your time to read this entire column is a demonstration of the difference one man’s life — George Floyd — a human being that most of us never heard of before May 25 can have on humanity.

Break the Wall of Silence: have your voice heard and make the difference you really want for our world.

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