Monday, 21 February 2011

a Moment for Wisdom…




“Some people fear they will lose their identity if they give up their hate.

They need to create an enemy so they know they exist.

Sharif Abdullah

Personal Wisdom:

How do you identify yourself? What are some of the ways that you identify yourself (ethnically, sexually, politically, religiously, economically…)

Which of your identities requires an “Other” for its definition?

Which of your identities requires the “Other” to be in opposition to you?

Is there anyone you “hate”? How about “intensely dislike”?

How do you describe yourself without referring to an “Other”?

What do you do when you hear someone separating from an “Other”? When someone uses separating or “enemy” language when referring to an “Other”?

Societal Wisdom:

In American society, there are very public and pronounced “fault lines” that separate segments of the populace:

  • Conservative/Progressive
  • Pro-Life/Pro-Choice
  • Gun Rights/Gun Controls

Given this tortured tapestry, is there anything that unites all Americans here in the 21st Century? Name these universal principles/ concepts.

If you cannot describe such principles… what is the vision of America in the 21st Century? What is it based on?

Is a new set of principles emerging? What are they? Do you see these principles being widely held in our society?

a Moment with Sharif…


This week’s theme is identity and “the Enemy”.

At one point in my life, my identity was crystal-clear: I was a “Black Militant”, and my work was to defeat the “White Power Structure” (meaning most of you receiving this “Moment”). I was “right” and you (collectively) were “wrong”.  Even “evil”.

My “clarity” disappeared when I observed African-Americans and other “people of color” exhibiting the exact same behavior as those in the perceived “White Power Structure”. And observed whites committed to changing the society. At that point, I began to lose my identity… And, I gained a larger, more inclusive one!

I remember, years ago, when it looked like the Camp David Accords were going to bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. All of a sudden, people started talking about fundamental splits and divisions – within Israeli society! Is it the maintenance of a common “enemy” that creates a common “Israeli” identity?  Can Israel exist without it?

Our identity must be more than what we oppose. That tells us what we are NOT. It doesn’t tell us what/ who we ARE.

For myself: I could discover a much more positive, powerful, nuanced and profound experience as an African-American, once I gave up my oppositional energy to a toxic “power structure” that everyone owns a piece of.

On a societal level: one of my favorite quotes is by Mikhail Gorbachev, who said to all Americans, “Please forgive me for depriving you of an enemy”.  Indeed, our leaders seemed to languish in the political doldrums until 9/11 gave us the image of the wild-eyed, bearded suicide bomber as the focus of our collective fear and hate. (At one time before 9/11, there was an effort to whip up fear and hatred against environmentalists!)

What happens if all of us give up our “enemy” thinking? What happens when we realize that ALL OF US must evolve – including our “Other”? Imagine the society that we can create at that moment!



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Sharif Abdullah photo: Lisa Norton

All other photos by Sharif Abdullah, unless otherwise noted.

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3 Responses to Monday, 21 February 2011

  1. Heather Carver says:

    I just read e-book Reuniting America ( It’s all about how to get people listening to each other, for our common good.
    “As old top-down ways of governing prove inadequate in the face of increasing complexity, it is intended to direct attention to the early signs of a new, cooperative form of political behavior emerging from the bottom-up”

    • admin says:

      Greetings — Yes, I fully agree with you. The “imaginal cells” of a new body politic are getting in gear!

      But/and: It’s important to remember that we are inviting people to a new, third level of political awareness. I’m in contact with people who think that “inclusive politics” means “let’s invite those bozos to see our enlightened point of view”. Instead, we have to invite people to a new awareness that is new for ALL.

      And, as you said, this movement is clearly “bottom up”. More on that in a week or so…

  2. Grace says:

    A couple of years ago I read an article in Newsweek written by a reporter who stated that the purpose of media was to create drama not inform people because drama is what sells the papers and increases the tv audiences thereby making money. Our media has become profit center. The universal concepts of our society are profit, non-responsibility and fear. We support these concepts with our own choices in our daily lives. Making choices out of fear, feeling powerless, and believing we can save money as we support corporations offering ‘cheap’ things.

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