“If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem…”Toni Morrison
In 1993 Toni Morrison the world renown American novelist, Toni Morrison, did an interview with Charlie Rose who asked her a profound question – “how do you feel about racism?” – that led to the quote above. In her response she described perpetrators of racism as being “bereft” and notes that for them “there is something distorted about the psyche… a corruption…a distortion.” And so she ends on a very sobering note that I will paraphrase here, if you can only be great when someone is at their weakest point, are you really great, because that kind of mentality is not healthy. while racism is a global pandemic with epicenters all over the world, I think there is a message for each of us whether or not we are at or near those epicenters.
whether the more self-righteous among us would like to admit it or not we all are susceptible to feeling good about ourselves and our situation when we see others who are “in worse place than we are”. Many immediately say, “that could never be me” or “dear lord don’t let that be me”. We all have said this and we all have left the experience feeling a little better about our lot in life. Gratitude is important but can we only be grateful when we see that someone else among us or not a part of our group is not doing well or is failing miserably? Also, there is the reality for some that there success is really at the expense of others. Really think about it, if there was no one beneath you on that ladder rung of life, would you still consider yourself a success?Or do we really achieved only because there are persons who still complain about being left behind because of a societally deemed inherited disadvantage, whether it be social, economic cultural, racial or a combination of all the above.
So we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Do we feel a measure of success only because there are persons on the lower rungs of the ladder and we hope they stay there? Have we only achieved something meaningful because someone, or others had to become victims for us to be victors? Is it that sometimes we unnecessarily make enemies so that we can vanquish them for selfish affirmations of worth, because we have lost track of our moral compass and gratification at the oppression of others is what we inadvertently champion? There may be a need to abandon the mindset that there are certain types of persons who come from a certain background, who do not have the right to do or be better in any capacity, that somehow they should never stand next to or pass us.
I learned a long time ago the importance of supporting others who are not doing so well and in so doing helping yourself to succeed. It is a lesson that needs constant revision.In order to thrive we need the support of others; as the African proverb goes, it really does take a village. That person you see on their knees wont always be there. There will come a time when they too will stand next to you and look beyond you. At such a time you will realize, that you had been stuck in that spot looking down at that person but you had never really advanced. However, it will be too late because by that time you had become both mentally an physically conditioned to hold tight to that counterproductive position. It is therefore always necessary to constantly check in with yourself. Ask yourself, how do I feel?