This past September, I was at Cleveland’s Hopkins airport waiting to fly back home. Sitting in the staging area, I watched as our plane pulled up to the gate. Soon, a steady stream of passengers began disembarking. Then, a family group of six adults, one carrying a baby and all of them carrying luggage and paraphernalia, came trudging through the door. They followed the cordoned off walkway that eventually opened into the spacious public area.
As they reached the end of the cordoned off walkway—only about five feet wide—the family suddenly decided that’s where they needed to put the baby in the stroller. All of them dropped what they were carrying and gathered around the mother to watch or wait—completely blocking the narrow walkway. A pileup of exiting passengers began to grow, unable to get past the family.
Peeved, passengers asked them to please move, as they struggled not to run into or step on them. The adults with the baby got mad at the other passengers explaining that they were busy getting their baby in the stroller—totally oblivious to where they were and the situation they were creating.
This is something I see played out every day in innumerable ways wherever I go: people attending to their agendas, unconscious of the people, situations and environment around them, all wrapped up in their own little worlds. I see little to no consideration for others and what their needs are.
In tandem with this, I see people easily fall into the quicksand of recrimination about everything, anything and everyone. Blame, gossip, envy, pettiness, complaining, criticism and judgmentalism are the easiest of regressive behaviors to immerse in. Eventually, they become our masters and we find ourselves stuck in a deep pit of emotions convoluted into self-hatred and fear.
As I travel, peruse news stories, check out reality TV shows and sift through social media, I’m observing people becoming more divorced from their humanity, more disconnected in their interactions with others. There is a one-dimensional expressivity being displayed in every corner of society steeped in defensiveness, anger and demoralizing anxiety.
We seem to be reaching a stage of stunning unawareness of and blatant insensitivity to all forms of life around us and the effect our actions, non-actions and words are having.
This state of mind makes me feel like I’m living amongst the walking dead. So, here’s my thought: let’s change this global trend to the “walking woke.”
One of the notions in vogue today is about getting “woke.” Okay—aside from its often being used incorrectly from a grammar standpoint—it does put out into the ethers the idea of waking up from our mind-numbed, somnambulistic lives. Of course, most of us believe that doesn’t apply to us because we think we’re leading lives of purpose and meaning, that we’re fully conscious and participating to a high degree. Time to take a look at that.
What we’re missing is the fact that we’re totally unconscious of how much we’ve swaddled ourselves into a cocooned life of comfortability and sameness. It’s a protective measure. We go through our daily lives handling jobs, families and responsibilities in a systematized fashion that allows us to manage it all. After a while, we’ve created a series of patterns within patterns upon which we can rely.
Combined with the deleterious effect communication technologies are having on us, the outcome is that our critical thinking skills are becoming dulled, and the people and situations around us are becoming objects to simply maneuver around as we seek to satisfy our personal agendas. That applies to everyone from thrill-seeking Type A personalities to sedimentary couch potatoes.
That sounds like a pretty crass generalization but it’s something to think about. In discussions with people, I find most have left behind in the dust of life the BIG questions, e.g., why am I here, what’s it all about, what’s my purpose in life, is there something more and who am I?
And that’s what I take getting “woke” to be about—awakening one’s consciousness. Anaïs Nin elegantly eluded to this:
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
That is my hope for humanity now, to awaken, to blossom.
There’s no denying that life is a challenge in every way imaginable. It overtakes, overwhelms and distracts us to the point that the big questions about life just can’t compete with the realness of life’s demands, obligations, obstacles, trials and triumphs. We don’t have the time, energy or drive to fathom the meaning of our existence. I fear we’ve mistaken the routine patterns of our lives for life itself.
Years ago, I surveyed my life. What I found was disappointing. Not only was I a product of my patterns, but I’d lost my identity to the larger body called “society.” In a sense, I’d become a minion to the all-encompassing socio-cultural agenda. In the process, I’d forgotten who I am at my core.
Despite all the sensations and trappings of being alive and engaged, I had become the walking dead.
The process of awakening has taken me years. I began by asking myself “Who am I?” in every context of my life—and my answer couldn’t be my gender, job, skillsets, title, ancestry, financial status, degrees or accomplishments. I had to dig through all the layers I’d cocooned myself in by describing myself via positive descriptors: I am kind, compassionate, giving, pacific, thoughtful, embracing, creative, etc.
I then created a list of negative descriptors: I am competitive, arrogant, selfish, possessive, judgmental, opinionated, fearful, etc. I had to look at how my negative aspects were holding me back, were stifling, suppressed others and were hurtful. That was a painful, eye-opening experience—but worth it.
It was then that I made the decision to come from the heart in all my interactions and relationships. And thus began my awakening process, a process of letting go of what chained me down and opening to what expressed my true self so that I could soar.
These days, I ask myself, “What am I doing to help people, and especially men, become the walking woke?” Considering the state our nation is currently in and the tumultuous confusion surrounding how men define or re-define themselves, we have an interesting decision before us: To awaken or not to awaken.
To awaken, we need to begin the longest journey we’ll ever undertake: from our heads to our hearts. The good news is threefold: 1) the answers we seek already lie within us, 2) we’re surrounded by supportive people and 3) there are many other men journeying with us.
Men have extraordinary capacity in their depth, range of expressiveness and ability to envision the greatest good for all of humankind.
It’s time to be our true selves unencumbered by mankind’s frailties and foibles, myths and superstitions, insecurities and fears. Our real courage is found not in social constructs and conventions, but in our hearts and willingness to seek the highest within ourselves and soar like eagles. It’s time to become the walking woke!
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This post has been republished on Medium.