I love this image of Frederick Douglass, born in my native state of Maryland in 1818.
He is usually portrayed in some image as a fierce black man, but here the softness to his smile broadcasts a deeper spectrum of humanity and warmth – not the same single story that traps perceptions of black men and women, even amongst ourselves.
Douglass’s words as well as his images are always read as fierce and while his “citizen” journalism was exceptionally eloquent on social reform, I want to consider reading his words as a personal intervention on leadership in one’s own life. How does one gain power to go beyond limited views of one’s self and one’s movement through life from the cradle to the grave? Clearly, the social ecologies one must transact in and travel through are not the same as being a black man bound by the institution of slavery in the 19th century, but perhaps in many ways it has become worse. We too often lose touch with ourselves with so many distractions and unmet needs not only at the level of group or nation, but at the level of our biology, local connections, intimate touch, and much more.
FREEDOM FROM PRISONS OF THOUGHT
We sometimes forget that we are bio-cultural beings in need of true and ethical balance in mind, body and action,and that we seek freedom from past training (“mental slavery”) and habits of mind and body so we can truly thrive beyond the “stories…told by our hues.”
[That is such a great line from a song I love by jazz vocalist Gregory Porter's called "Painted on Canvas".]
I think there is a “natural” inclination, or a manufactured one, to read Frederick Douglass, the freedom fighter, as if his texts are all about national or social revolution or freedom from social tyranny. The Wikipedia entry’s description of Douglass, like others, points us there:
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.
The source for the 7th footnote is from “Radical Reform and Antislavery” (Retrieved March 17, 2011). The actual quote reads: “When many Northerners refused to believe that this eloquent orator could have been a slave, he responded by writing an autobiography that identified his previous owners by name.” Yes, this man held his prisoners to account!
AGITATING – MOVING TOWARDS SELF CARE
What if we could embrace even classic quotes from Douglass from another point of view? What if you read this quote below from your own struggles and desire to thrive? I’ve read this one before, but from the vantage point of true self care, it takes on a whole different hue and interpretation:
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass
“Struggle” in the quote need not limited to “violent effort” against an outside foe as in its common use in Merriam Webster’s. And “power” in the last line must not be collapsed with “force.” Power, as in, what you can achieve and gain through right work, ethical acts, and demanding that which is beyond that which seems ordinary or is accepted but does not accept or include you.
As the 2012 Summer Olympics commence in London this week, think about what demands Olympic athletes make of themselves and others to gain their arrival at such an elite level of competition? What struggles must she or he encounter, and surely fail and surpass, to get to the top of their game and goal?
Perhaps we should embrace the obsolete use of “agitate,” as in, “to give motion to”:
Definition of AGITATE
1. a. obsolete : to give motion to
WHAT ARE YOU GIVING MOTION TO?
I am in an inquiry to begin to notice, to begin to really get, what I giving motion to as I am about to turn 50. Am I surviving or thriving?
Last year I gave motion to marriage and then to divorce. Now, I am inquiring into what I gave motion to before I hit that curve, what was the real source of my detour?
- What was I fearing then, that I now must face at last to be free?
- What do I do to agitate, to truly be responsible for where I am in my life?
- What needs to be done to get back in the driver’s seat anticipating and avoiding future curves?
So I ask you to ask yourself:
- What are you giving motion to?
- Or to whom and for what are you giving away motion towards real freedom?
Would love to hear if you enjoyed this read. I am agitating myself back into blogging and writing to find my niche, my brand online. So if you dig this, definitely let me know why or what you’d like to hear or know more about from me.Serendipity + Integrity + Intimacy = Kyraocity