Race-work, Race-love

From Heartbreak to Heroes: Lessons Between Revenge and Redemption

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Heroes are made out of broken hearts. This lesson is often a hard one to learn. Despite the many examples we have witnessed over time, until we have had our own hearts broken – we cannot feel the impending triumph.

How does one move after a suffering from a broken heart? The choices sometimes seem bleak. Stuck between revenge and redemption (as my sister calls it) we often seek revenge. I’ve been on the receiving end of the call to revenge once. “Your-man-was-with-me-this-whole-time” type of call. And when I hung up the phone I not only felt bad for me, but I felt bad for her because she chose revenge rather than using all that energy to devote to her personal redemption.

Sad. “Wasted Talent”A Bronx Tale

We see this in politics. People get angry that undocumented students are getting a benefit they think they deserve and are not getting. People get angry that affirmative action exists. So they protest, change policies, and then wait for the next time they feel politically taken advantage of. Note to self: When people in power get angry, they change laws.

The link between these two examples is that in each case, they felt personally offended by a situation they may or may not have had enough information. In both cases, they did not plan their attack based on trying to find a solution for everyone involved. They were directly involved in trying to hurt the ones from who they felt hurt. And they effectively get what they want.

For those of us in the business of personal/political redemption, how do we move from a personal/political heart break?

According to books on heartbreak, we are often told to let go of the past.

I think this idea needs to be modified a bit. I think we have to review the past, learn from its lessons, accept that it is the past, and understand the new reality.

Mourn. Sometimes warriors need the space and time to reflect on what happened. Healing is necessary. And that is hard for some of us. Some of us are considered to be the strong ones. The president of the country is supposed to have the face of bravery – and if he shows weakness we get upset. Our families, similarly, may be taken aback when they see the warrior in their families retreat. But sometimes the warrior needs to rest, too. When the warrior has been in battle for so long, keeping up the mask of bravery becomes the last thing they want to do. Warriors need rest too.

We are also taught to surround ourselves with friends. Coalition building, in this sense, is key. Talk to people who share similar views. Figure out your strengths, their strengths.

Volunteer. Using these strengths, what can you contribute to the others’ needs? It can be as small as a social worker who brings a group of her girlfriends together to talk, or an educator forming a book club for her students. A dancer putting an exercise program for young people. An expert in finance, sharing her expertise to others on how to be financially responsible, or a pastry chef making baked goods for her neighbors. These are how heroes are made out of heartbreak.

Come up with a plan. Is your goal revenge or redemption? If it is redemption, personal/political salvation, figure out what is left to salvage? What is there to liberate? Sometimes we see the larger issues looming ahead of us – as someone who has written on in-state tuition policies and undocumented immigrants, I feel a personal responsibility to sharing information on this little known policy. So every time I am asked to speak on a panel, I always try to insert that information.

It may not cancel out the disastrous repeal of these benefits. But I try.

After a personal heartbreak, I asked my friend, ‘Why is this happening to me?” I will never forget what she said: “Because one day my daughter may go through the same thing and she may need you to help her get through a similar experience.”

Indeed, we live in a world where all we want is to eradicate the bad and never feel the pain. Acceptance that pain is inevitable, whether personal or political, is part of the process. We may be called to task too. We may be called to discuss how to overcome this current political climate. Why is this happening to our people? What can we do about it?

“Your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others” – Julia Cameron , The Artist’s Way

Many have done it before us. Segregation is a political heartbreak. Lynchings were disastrous. Anti-immigrant sentiment has turned violent. But our country has seen these things before. What can we learn from those who helped identify these problems, bring visibility to these issues to the public, help legislate policies to stop the perpetuation of these issues, and continue to stand strong in the face of opposition? We can also learn from those in power – not resort to their revenge tactics – but definitely understand some of their ways that allow them to continue their power, their movement.

In my work, I am directly faced with the next generation. Before I leave my office I remind them “Leave the office better than how you found it!”

Better? I thought it was the same? – I get this many times.

I tell them “Better!”

In a similar way, we need to leave our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our worlds, better than how we found them.

There are the people who want revenge. The “They don’t deserve it because *insert population of choice here (e.g. undocumented, poor, etc)*” camp. They seek payback, they want to settle scores, they are out for themselves and those who look like them.

And then there are some of us that want redemption. The “They deserve it because they are human like me and you” camp. They seek release, emancipation, liberation.

Yes. Heroes can be made out of heartbreak.


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