I know that this has been a very difficult time for some UO students – particularly students of color and other groups that feel under siege right now. It is to those students that I primarily speak – but also those who identify as allies or are just concerned with the suffering of fellow ducks.
Many students wonder what future holds for themselves and their loved ones. I have heard several stories about UO students being harassed by strangers on the street simply for the color of their skin. This saddens me, and as white male, it makes me very disappointed in those who share my gender and skin color.
At the same time, I have seen wise elders — and wise youth — stepping forward and offering words of hope and inspiration. This seems like the best response during periods of fear and uncertainty. Isolation in times like these can sometimes be a recipe for despair.
As a psychologist I’m aware of the power of the darkness. If we don’t get lost in our suffering, then deep hurt, fear and anger can become a powerful force for transformation and change. People don’t usually seek out experiences that are confusing and painful. But it’s not the victories in life that shape and reveal our character. If we can explore such experiences consciously and with compassion for ourselves and others, then the darkness deepens us and reveals our strength.
Think of Rosa Parks who refused to go the back of the bus in Montgomery. Think of Martin Luther King at the Birmingham City Jail. Think of Cesar Chavez fasting for 25 days at the Forty Acres gas station. These men and women faced as great, if not greater, challenges than the ones America faces today, and yet they emerged from the storms of hate and misunderstanding only more committed to their cause. For as Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
This may sound naïve – but imagine what your life and the world would be like if for every act of ugliness you hear or read about, you and others engaged in acts of beauty. This could mean reaching out to a friend who is going through a difficult time. It could be volunteering for those who can benefit from your help — or smiling and saying hello to a stranger who appears burdened or alone. Or it might be listening to the vision that stirs in the quiet waters of your soul and bringing it out into the light so that the world becomes better place for all of us.
So in this season of winter and darkness, I encourage you to kindly tend to the darkness and also to the flames that light up your life.
Mark Evans, Ph.D.