When I started this podcast series in 2022. I said that I wanted to invite the listener into a conversation about how to stay connected to your deepest values as you work for change. I believe that such a conversation when genuine can feel vulnerable. In this episode, I will talk about some of my own thoughts on parts of my life as an activist. I hope that will illustrate some of the things that can cause an ordinary, goodhearted human being to act in ways that do not reflect their deeper values. I believe that it can be valuable to be vulnerable in the way I am inviting others to be, even though it can be vulnerable for me. So what values did I grow up with that motivated my activism?
There were several foundational ones. I had a sense from a very young age that I was brought into the world for a basic reason, and it had something to do with love. By that I mean love in the sense of caring for all life, including especially our fellow human beings.
I have no explanation for how I came to believe this. Indeed, it wasn't even a belief in the sense of an intellectual, or rational thought. It was an internal sense I just became more aware of, and as I grew into my twenties, did take on some specific beliefs. I also learned from my dad a sense of fairness and the responsibility to treat others with kindness.
My dad was born in 1915, and grew up in a world where racist beliefs were much more openly held, a time when a much higher percentage of Americans had little concern about expressing them openly. He wasn't immune from some of those beliefs, but he would not treat another person unkindly.
He was a middle of the road liberal Democrat. And his values came in part from my grandfather, a Southern Baptist minister who refused to go into the pulpit and tell his parishioners not to vote for Al Smith in 1928 because he opposed religious prejudice. The order to preach against Al Smith had come down because of a widespread fear of Catholicism and the Catholic church.
I grew up with that and other stories that became a part of my own beliefs about what it meant to be a good person. I was also aware that my ancestry included great-grandparents who were Cherokee. I read about the forced removal of the Cherokee people in 1848 and other historical facts about indigenous people's history.
I loved reading about history and wanted to learn more. I knew about slavery representing a serious contradiction to America's founding documents. I saw the Civil War as something akin to a second revolution, along with a short reconstruction era that was ended violently with the enforcement of Jim Crow segregation, lynching, and economic discrimination.
I saw these things as wrongs that needed to be righted. I believed in basic human rights for everyone, the words of our Declaration of Independence that said, We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And I'd begun hearing about the civil rights movement. I also had negative life experiences that informed how I reacted to political and social issues in my youth. My birth mother suffered from mental illness in the form of depression all her life. She was neglectful of my sister and I, and that was part of the reason my dad divorced her.
He met my stepmother at work and soon remarried all this by the time I was two and a half years old. After World War II, we moved to Schenectady, New York when he got a job at General Electric. We moved into a nice home in a middle class neighborhood in the city that his job allowed him to afford.