It’s Sunday night as I type this, and I am still struggling to process the fact that sometimes police officers shoot innocent people because of the color of their skin, and sometimes angry people shoot dedicated police officers because of the actions of other officers, and people I love and care about scream at each other online and in real life over it, and at least one friend was disowned by her family — yes, actually disowned — because she tried to get them to see how things might look from the perspective of people who don’t look like them. It’s been heartbreaking.
But there is hope. So much hope.
The United States just celebrated our independence as a country, and now it’s time to re-up our commitment to a world where all men and women are created equal and truly have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Founders knew how important happiness is to the very core of our country. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I work so hard to proliferate happiness — because it is inextricably linked to freedom, love, equality, prosperity and everything else that makes life worth living.
And right now, we can be happy in the belief that the events of the past week are actually a sign of something amazing — as hard as that might be to see when we’re all so divided.
What’s happening in America is not because of increasing racial inequality, but actually, because of increased equality. Yes — despite how lopsided it still is, the races are more equal than ever. I’m not denying that it is grossly askew, but it is less so than at any point in history to date, it just doesn’t feel that way because so many of us never saw how truly bad it was before. Now we see it, now we know it, now we can’t deny it. But it is slowly, steadily getting more equal.
And for a lot of people, having their place of privilege slip away is terrifying and destabilizing, and it makes them angry. They see their higher status dying, and a tiger is fiercest when near death. That is what we’re experiencing now, and it’s very painful, but also so inspiring for what it truly means.
At every point in history, the ugliest violence of racism has always been a reaction to a huge leap forward. Malevolent hate groups like the KKK didn’t form until after slaves were freed. Violence and riots in the 1960s started after the Supreme Court desegregated schools in 1954 and buses in 1960. The current rise of anti-black, anti-immigrant rhetoric in this country has followed the election of our first black President. And all of those periods of unrest and anger were followed by a state of far greater progress. Not perfection, but progress nonetheless.
When I have a friend whose child is in the phase known as the Terrible Twos, I always assure them that this is the best thing that could be happening. Terrible Twos occur when the child transitions from a state of pure privilege, where parents are 24/7 servants, to a state of personal responsibility: of self-care and rule-following, and nobody wants to be forced into that. Who wouldn’t want to be catered to at all times, getting every need met at someone else’s effort? Terrible Twos are when a child rebels because his parents stop being servants and become authority figures, and he throws tantrums.
Our country is experiencing the tantrums of a large segment of the population going through the Terrible Twos — losing their exalted place of privilege and having to take responsibility for themselves in a world that no longer caters only to them. I don’t feel any more sorry for them than I would a toddler having to learn how to use a toilet, and for the same reason. They will learn. They will adapt. Their tantrums will pass. Peace will come. This country will emerge from our current state of conflict stronger, better and more equal.
I pray that no more lives are lost, but more so, I pray that the ones that have already been taken were not ended in vain. We can use this time to start important conversations. In these turbulent days, we can see each other as allies against inequality, not enemies trying to hold one another down. We can know that those of us fighting for equality are on a road to a better world — together. We can hold fast against the ones who want to cling to their old, inequitable ways, and stand up to anyone who would deny their fellow Americans that which makes us our greatest — the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We must love one another. We must see our fellow men and women as equals. Most importantly, we must strive to be happy. It’s not trivial. Happy people don’t hate. Happy people don’t discriminate. Happy people don’t rise by holding others down and don’t long for a day when they were given far more than their fellow man through no attribute of their own other than the color of their skin or the family they were born in.
Happy people are the core of the America our Founders envisioned.
Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness.
We’re on our way…
Valerie Alexander is speaker, author and corporate trainer. She works with companies and organizations seeking to retain their top talent by making happiness in the workplace a priority and ensuring that female professionals are recognized and rewarded for their work. Her books on Happiness, Success and Success for Women can be found on Amazon.com, and she can be reached directly through her website, SpeakHappiness.com.