Photo © by Brittani Burns on Unsplash
Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.
Who Are My People?
In the perfectly integrated, comprehensive, inclusive, and balanced universe in which most of us do not (think we) live, we can hear the mystical cheerleaders’ rhythmic, enthusiastic, and obvious response echoing around the arena: EV-ree-one! Where most of us do think we live, it can be helpful to have a sense of who our people are — not in the unhealthy us-against-the-others sense that governs most finite games, but in the sense of realistically assessing how and with whom I might do the most good in the world as it is, with what I have to offer, without harming others, to the benefit of the whole shebang. Taking care of my, or our, little niche is often the best way to serve the greater good.
Often, the answer to this question lies not in some definitive choice we make but in our authentic attention to the intersections of who we think we are, the stories we choose, the impacts we both have and receive, and what we are able to uncover and own that we previously had not seen. While “my people” may be superficially identified, or at least narrowed down, through blood, geography, and chronology, they are inevitably found and known through experience, belief, and worldview. They include those I learn from and learn with and those who learn from me — whether the learning emerges in the classroom, on the street, at the checkout counter, in the healthcare office, at work, or at the kitchen table. Consider the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, as his writing led him into “contact with more human beings”:
“I had editors — more teachers — and these were the first white people I’d ever really known on any personal level. They defied my presumptions — they were afraid neither for me nor of me. Instead they saw in my unruly curiosity and softness something that was to be treasured and harnessed.”¹
The friends we choose and who choose us in childhood and adolescence, the groups we align with when we choose a craft, profession, or area of study (or one chooses us), and the individuals in our chosen craft, profession, or discipline towards whom we gravitate may provide insight and evidence about, but don’t necessarily define, “our people.” Many folks will come, stay for a while and go; others will come and stay. We begin to recognize some who stay, and even some who go, as our people.
As tempting as it can be to espouse an all-of-us perspective and claim everyone as our people (as those mystical cheerleaders did above), if we’re operating primarily from a Body-Mind identity, it is difficult to embody and live up to that claim — despite its value and attractiveness. Better to live in a healthy embodiment of who our people truly are right now, than to delude ourselves with an espoused, but not yet embodied and lived, self-aggrandizing claim.
Still, part of our intentional practice might be to “act as if” all humans are our people and to see how such practice impacts our sense of self, our beliefs about others, and our behavior.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, (One World-
Random House, 2015), 62.