By Poonam Singh
The first phase of my life was thinking humility meant being quiet and subservient. My voice was relatively quiet and I thought I was doing what was expected of me. I did want to raise my hand and speak up, and I always noticed the voices that weren't getting heard in the room, but I wasn't able to really step forward.
The second phase of my life was trying to change authority, who I blamed for creating and maintaining the oppressive systems I saw around me. I wanted to shake them and found myself getting angrier and angrier. I could always connect with the marginalized perspective or person and I held this injustice deep in my heart. I knew there was a relationship between the micro-inequities I saw daily & the violence we saw in society. I also felt the efforts being made in poor communities of color were deeply troubling because of the fundamental stance of saving, fixing, the poor and it felt arrogant and condescending to me.
But then an interesting thing happened.....I got a taste of power and success . Now I thought I had arrived in my career and in my work. I could change things. I was getting all of the right messages in society--that I was making a difference and making an impact, yet I felt farther and farther from myself. I even created some enemies along the way. I found myself doing the things I hated in others in order to win. Had I become the oppressor? (In India, it was other brown people who were oppressing other brown people with a small percentage of white people in the background in power.) Before I knew it, my behavior would be in direct contradiction with the change I wanted to see in the world.
Now I'm at a third phase of my life which is about service. It is now about working on myself and seeing the best in everyone to appeal people's highest values. It is about constantly speaking up, not being quiet. It is how we sustain ourselves in this work. We can't come to this work to fix others, to colonize others, or to control others, because we are not dealing with our own pain or our own egos. I've seen too much of that. We can't come to this from a place of ego because it makes us feel powerful and important. It is time to serve, and partner and hold "love for the enemy" as Gandhi talked about and doing the hard work. We have seen time and time again that systems of power can shift when we work in a framework of non-violence. Gandhi led a revolution. Martin Luther King Jr. followed. They were spiritual leaders. Time and time again, it is a story of revolution led by love. It is a story of partnership that brings people in, not alienates or excludes others. No matter how severe the violence, the capacity of our heart is huge to speak up for what is wrong and unjust & talk it out and work toward creating change.
This is why we started Soulforce Leadership. It is about creating a space for leaders to challenge injustice in themselves and in their own communities from a place of love. We began with young students because we know they are the closest to the truth.
In gratitude and service, poonam