The better part of me

One of our favorite songs since the turn of the century is “Superman” recorded by Five for Fighting and penned by John Ondrasik. I am intrigued by the humanity afforded Superman in the haunting lyrics. But, the words that resonate the most with me are the lines spoken as Superman, “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” Here is the first half of the song.

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird. I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

To me, the song reveals even a superhero has insecurities, wants and dreams. Even a superhero is searching to find “the better part of me.” We are an imperfect people. While we have true heroes that live and breathe amongst us, they are imperfect just like everyone else. So, we should not hold people up to a higher standard, as they will only fail to live up to those standards. Even if heroic or a great leader, they will also be imperfect.

One of the finest people ever to walk the earth was Mother Teresa, a true light for many. Yet, Mother Teresa noted in her journal that she prayed to God when she felt less pious. When she was broken down and tired, she prayed that she could get back to a better place. She prayed to rekindle “the better part of me.” In a recent survey published in Reader’s Digest, ministers also noted that there are occasions when they feel less pious and need to find their way back.

Gandhi was in a similar predicament. Here was an attorney who decided his life’s calling would be to fight for the disenfranchised. He would use his voice and body to say things are not right through civil disobedience. Yet, he was imperfect and had enemies as well. Martin Luther King took to heart Gandhi’s civil disobedience and adopted the strategy in the US during the civil rights fight. Yet, MLK was not perfect either. But, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived “the better part of me” and because of that, helped millions and are heroes to many.

I wrote recently about the wonderful series on PBS by Ken Burns on The Roosevelt’s – Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin. All came from the elite and were by no means perfect. Teddy could be a bully and liked notoriety. But, Teddy hated unfair advantage and wanted folks to have equal opportunity, a “square deal,” he called it. Eleanor was strident in her convictions, but was shy and aloof and turned many off, until she learned how to cultivate relationships and use her powers of persuasion to do great things. Franklin would use his version of the bully pulpit to get things done. He also had several affairs. But, he helped save the world from tyranny, promoted the New Deal and helped America focus its manufacturing muscle on the war effort. Each accomplished a great deal for this country and our world is better place because of them.

These folks are all heroes. Yet, they are all imperfect. For some reason, we have forgotten this and want our leaders to be perfect in every way. By the numbers, Bill Clinton may be the best president we have had in the last fifty years, yet he had a wandering eye and an impeachment scandal evolved when one tryst occurred in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan is touted as the paragon for conservative presidents and did many good things, yet he was almost impeached over the Iran-Contra affair and did not believe we should sanction South Africa for Apartheid, his veto fortunately being overturned. Yet, Reagan’s ad lib comment in a speech helped bring down the Berlin Wall among some of his other accomplishments.

We are not perfect either. We will  make mistakes just like everyone else. We should do the best we can and find “the better part of me” for ourselves. If we can do this, we can more legitimately expect others to do the same, especially our leaders. We can also treat others like we want to be treated. And, that includes forgiving others for mistakes, as we would hope they would do with ours.  No one is perfect, not even Superman.

Context gets lost in Ferguson Discussion

In the wake of the tragedy over the Michael Brown shooting and the grand jury declining to pursue an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, context for the discussion seems to have been lost. Some who look at the failure to indict as vindication for a beleaguered police officer are focusing more on the event and not the underlying causes, in other words, the context. I am not going to sit in judgment over the people serving on the grand jury. They saw testimony and information the larger public did not see, so for me to question their decision, would be an uninformed or partially informed opinion. I do lament that a young, imperfect man is dead and that is unfortunate.

The part that should be looked at more is the expectation of the African-American community that an indictment would not be forthcoming. They hoped for an indictment, but knew in their hearts that Wilson would not be so charged. What does that say? It validates that there are two Americas, one where opportunity exists, and one where opportunity is limited or non-existent. It validates that African-American people expect to be maltreated. We should be asking why have these people lost hope.

Yet, it is not just race that is a factor, although a high percentage of those disenfranchised are of color. We have a poverty problem in this country that impacts people off all races, ethnicities, political persuasions and geographies. Poverty exists in rural towns, just as much as it does in urban and suburban settings. And, America is no longer the land of opportunity like it used to be, as we have greatly fallen in the ranks of socio-economic class mobility. So, this context is important. This type of disenfranchisement is debilitating.

Also, we seemed to have lost sight that we live in communities. The law enforcement officers should represent and reach out to the communities. There are great examples where community policing has done marvelous things to reduce crime. The proactivity and accessibility of law enforcement officers provides a calming service to the community. I read a great example as it relates to drunk driving which applies here. Rather than stop and cite drunk drivers once they got behind the wheel, a community police force started positioning officers outside of nightclubs and sports bars. These officers would suggest to obviously inebriated people that they should not drive and would call them a cab.

Right now, with more Americans armed, the police have to be more armed and more adept at using the weapons. Per Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book “Blink,” officers need to be taught to be judicious with the use of force when confronted. The premise of “Blink” is there is a predisposition to act based on gut instincts and it is crucial that officers are trained and re-trained to not act rashly or based on biased expectations. This is a key reason why African-American males are at greater risk than other males. This is key reason African-American mothers have the “talk” with their male children (that white mothers do not need to have) about being extra careful with any movements when approached by the law.

This issue is complicated and deserves good dialogue about the underlying context and potential solutions. It does not deserve politicians, pundits and leaders arguing over misconceptions and innuendo. I do not like that some have resorted to violence, looting and destruction. This does not serve a good purpose and the wrong people are punished. I do not like that Brown’s body was treated so poorly after his death. I do not like that questions may still exist about the circumstances of his death, but smarter people than me will need to look into what the grand jury may not have seen. And, I do not like people short-changing the disenfranchised, by not understanding fully the context of their disenfranchisement. Unless someone has walked in their shoes, they truly do not understand why hope can seem lost.

And, it should not be lost that other African-American youth have died recently, as before, at the hands of the law no matter how justified the act. So, Michael Brown has not died alone. Let’s remember that context, as well.