OLIVER GOODRICH: Well, good evening, and welcome. My name is Oliver Goodrich. And I serve as the associate dean of students for Spirituality, Meaning-Making, and director of Cornell United Religious Work. And on behalf of the Office of Spirituality, Meaning-Making, and the Cornell United Religious Work, I want to welcome you here tonight.
I want to begin our time together by acknowledging the Indigenous people of all the lands that we are all on today. While we're gathering this evening on a virtual platform, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the importance of the lands we each call home, whether you are here with us in Ithaca or elsewhere. Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohono nation, the Cayuga nation.
The Gayogohono are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We're grateful for the ability to organize here. And we wish to extend our respects to the people and elders of the Cayuga nation.
We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohono dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohono people, past, and present to these lands and waters. And we reaffirm our commitment to improving our own understanding of local Indigenous peoples and their cultures. And now a word about this evening's event.
This event is the first in a series of events we're calling into and out of the Echo Chambers. The idea for the series came about back in January, as a group of CURW chaplains gathered to discuss the insurrection in the US capital on January 6. As many of you did, we struggled to understand what had taken place.
And in our search to make meaning of that event, we realized that what had taken place was not an isolated event, but rather was symptomatic of something much deeper and more significant. Over the last few years, many of us have felt a growing sense of division and disagreement in our culture. It feels like it's becoming harder to have meaningful and productive conversation across lines of difference.
Now some attribute this to politics, others to movements for social change, some to media fueled fear mongering. Whatever the causes may be, these divisions became even more evident last spring as the coronavirus pandemic moved us into isolation away from one another. The idea, the image of echo chambers, feels like a fitting one to capture this time of not just physical and social distance, but also a metaphorical distancing from one another.
In those early conversations and early in the year that we had among the chaplains, someone reminded us of the words of noted author, Isabel Wilkerson, who writes, "this moment we're in is not just a social crisis and not just a political crisis. It is a spiritual crisis." So as a group of professionals committed to spirituality and meaning-making, we began to wonder, what do we make of this cultural moment? How has it impacted our students?
How will we find our way forward individually and collectively? And what are the spiritual practices, those habits of heart and mind that might dispose us to resist the urge to run away from this moment, but instead to meet it and to meet each other, and help us find our way forward together? We hope to explore these questions throughout this series.
And tonight's speaker is well-poised to usher us into this conversation. As an Asian-American writer and interfaith leader, who has wrestled in her life and her work with how to respond to division, and hate, and even violence, Valerie's voice and message are especially relevant and timely in light of the murders in Atlanta last week. And so on that note, before we begin, I want to invite us to take just a brief moment of silence to stand in solidarity with the survivors of the Atlanta shooting and to honor the victims.
I invite you to join me in a moment of silence as we remember our brothers and sisters. Thank you. Thanks for joining us. And thanks for being with us tonight.
And so now I want to introduce my colleague Nancy Martinsen, who serves as associate dean of students and director of the Asian and Asian-American Center, who will introduce our featured guest this evening. Welcome, Nancy.
NANCY MARTINSEN: Thank you, Oliver Hello, everyone. As Oliver said, my name is Nancy Martinsen. And I serve as the Kent G. Sheng, class of '78 associate dean of students and director of the Asian and Asian-American Center.
And behalf of everyone who had a hand in planning this evening's event, I want to extend a warm welcome to each of you. It is so good to have so many of you with us this evening. Speaking of our planners, I want to take a brief moment to thank all of the people and offices that helped make tonight's event possible.
We're grateful to our co-sponsors, including Mike Bishop and the Office of Engagement Initiatives, the SEEK Student Association, Marcia Eames-Sheavly, and Cornell Garden-Based Learning, the Interfaith Council, the Center for Transformative Action, the Dean of Students Team, and the many CURW chaplaincies, especially Hillel and the Episcopal Church. And now it is my privilege to introduce our featured speaker this evening. Many of you are, no doubt familiar, with the work of our distinguished guest.
Valarie Kaur is a seasoned civil rights activist and celebrated prophetic voice at the forefront of progressive change. Valarie burst into American consciousness in the wake of the 2016 election when her watch night service address went viral with 30 plus million views worldwide. Her question, is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb, reframed the political moment and became a mantra for people fighting for change.
Valarie now leads the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice in America. As a lawyer, filmmaker, and innovator, she is one with the policy change on multiple fronts, hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, internet freedom, and more. She founded Groundswell Movement Faithful Internet, and the Yale Visual Law Project to inspire and equip new generations of advocates.
Valarie has been a regular TV commentator on MSNBC and contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Hill, Huffington Post, and The Washington Post. A daughter of Sikh farmers in California's heartland, Valarie earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School. Valarie's book, See No Stranger, A Memoir, A Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, was released in 2020 and expands on her blockbuster Ted Talk.
We are so pleased to have Valarie with us this evening. You all in the audience tonight will have a chance to join in the conversation later in the hour. Please feel free to write your questions for Valarie in the Q&A box. We'll be encouraging audience questions later in the program.
And we want to get as many of them as we can. And Valarie loves the Q&A part. It's her favorite part. So please take advantage of it. And with that, I am incredibly happy to turn it over to Valarie.
VALARIE KAUR: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. The beloved community belongs to divine oneness, and so does all that it achieves. Thank you so much, Olivia. Thank you to-- I'm sorry. Thank you, Nancy, and thank you, Oliver.
My tongue is tied. I'm still feeling the weight of the fatigue of the last week. And I'm just so grateful to be here in communities. So Nancy, Oliver, all of you at the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making, everyone at Cornell University who made my visit tonight possible, thank you.
My best friends Jessica Weiss and Jeremy Wallace are faculty members in political science at Cornell. So I visit Ithaca every year. And I have come to know Cornell through them.
And I have come to see what you all have endured the last year through them, through the pandemic, the virtual college, the assaults on our democracy, the racial reckonings, and the most recent massacre in Atlanta. I find in the wake of trauma, it is the hardest for me to find language. And, yet, it is precisely in the wake of trauma that we need to be with one another, to tell the story.
And so I thank you for inviting me to be here with you tonight to hold space tonight. And I want to say, however, you are arriving tonight, you can arrive with all of yourself. If you are arriving with grief in your body, just notice the way that it is taking shape in your throat, heart, belly.
Grief is living in you in some way. And there's no fixing it, my love. There is only burying it. And so allow yourself to be brave with your grief, and allow this hour tonight to be a way to move through your grief. You are welcome here.
If you find that you are carrying rage in your body, if your grief is laced with rage, perhaps you heard the police chief's comments about the perpetrator having a really bad day, or perhaps you are tired from so many assaults of white supremacist violence, perhaps you are wondering how many turns to the cycle it's going to take before we are safe in our skin, I want to tell you to honor your rage. Your rage carries vital information. Audre Lorde, the great Black feminist, said that our rage carries information and energy.
The solution is not to suppress our rage or to let it explode, but to process it in safe containers, to allow yourself to shake, or to weep, or to cry, or to dance, or to run, whatever you need to do to move that energy through your body. For once you are in relationship with your rage, you can ask yourself, what information does my rage carry? What is it telling me about where I want to do-- where I want to be now and next, what my role might be in this great labor for justice?
So honor your rage. Be curious about it wondering about it. And if you are feeling not grief or rage, but you are just feeling nothing at all, perhaps you're just feeling numb, that is OK to. The body can only process so many traumas.
And in the not feeling, all you feel is breathless, I want to tell you what a wise friend once told me about my breathlessness. You see I always thought that my restlessness was a sign of my weakness, but your breathlessness is a sign of your bravery and means that you are awake to what's happening in the country right now. Our country, our world is in transition.
You see the most recent massacre is just another sign of how the forces of white supremacy, patriarchy, tyranny have risen, have dominated our country the last few years and that these forces are not going away any time soon, that, in fact, this transition, this period of transition that we're in as a nation will last 25 years. You see, within 25 years, the number of people of color in the United States will exceed the number of white people for the first time since colonization.
We are at a crossroads. Will we continue to wrestle with a kind of Civil War, images, like we saw on January 6 in the Capitol building, a power struggle with those in this country who want to return America to a past where a certain class of white people holds political, economic, and cultural dominion? Will we continue to see massacres like we saw, a mixed motives of racialized misogyny, or will we begin to birth a nation that has never been, in the history of the world, a nation made up of other nations, a nation that is truly multifaith multiracial, multicultural, where power is shared, where we strive to protect the dignity and the wellness, and the flourishing of every single person, the America that we have long dreamt?
With the climate crisis, this question, the stakes become existential, but if we don't start solving the climate crisis within the next 25 years starting now, there might not be a world at all. We who are alive today will decide whether humanity itself survives or not. Is this darkness in our country, and our nation, and our world is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb?
I believe that we can transition America across the threshold. Imagine a healthy multiracial future. I believe that we can transition humanity as a whole across the threshold.
Imagine a sustainable world, no longer teetering on collapse, but a world where we still have conflict, where we still have problems, but we have found a way to work together toward shared solutions because we have found a way to cultivate what I call beloved community. When Dr. King called for us to become the beloved community, he wasn't talking about a world free of conflict. He was talking about a community anchored in the practice, the intentional practice of love.
This brings me to you tonight. The world is in transition, yes. Each of us has a role in the labor.
Sound government is necessary. We need the policies. And yet, government alone, policy alone will not take us across the threshold. We need a shift of consciousness and culture.
We need a revolution of the heart. That is block-by-block work. That is heart-to-heart work. And so I want to direct my comments tonight to the students, because this work of transitioning America and transitioning the world, this is your work, our work.
This is the work of our lifetime. And you are just coming into the world at a time when it most needs you. And you are wondering if you even have a role.
And I'm wanting to tell you that each of you, each of you has a specific role that no one else can play. You have a sphere of influence. You have a set of talents. You have a way of being.
You have a voice. And if we are going to survive as a country and as a human species, we need you. We need your voice. We need you in the labor.
And what I want to tell you is, whenever someone said to me in college, so you're going to go change the world, I would always just cringe, as if, you messed up the world, and now it's my responsibility? I want to tell you that you're not going to do it alone, that we're going to be here with you, that every single one of us has a role in the labor of transitioning the country into a just and sustainable future. The question is, how will you choose to labor?
And you don't need to become a professional activist, no. Whatever you pursue, education, or arts, or politics, or medicine, or science, whatever you pursue, you will have the ability to exercise your imagination and to build a beloved community where you are. And so that brings me, number one, we're in transition as a country, as a world. Number two, each of us has a role. Number three, we've got to do it with love.
We've got to do it with love, love for others, love even for our opponents, and love for ourselves. The focus of my time tonight is offering to you what I hear as the call of revolutionary love. So first of all, as a lawyer, any time anyone said to me that love was the answer, I would roll my eyes.
Do you know what we're up against? What is love in the face of systems of oppression, institutions that perpetuate injustice? I come to realize that the problem is not with love, but with the way that we talk about it.
You know, love in our culture is primarily talked about as a feeling in pop songs and Hallmark cards. You know, love is a feeling, something that feels good. Love is something that happens to us. We fall in love.
And while everyone should have that experience in life, I've come to understand that that is just a small section of what it means to love. Love, my definition of love I'm offering you, is-- love is sweet labor. Love is something that we do with and for each other.
Think about your friends. Think about your classmates, your teachers, your parents, your family, the children in your life. To love them is to labor for them. Love is labor, sweet, bloody, imperfect, demanding, ongoing, a choice that we make again, and again, and again.
And if love is labor, then love contains all of the emotions. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger or rage is the force that protects that which we love. And when we feel like we have reached our limit, then wonder, wonder is the act that returns us to love.
So love is labor. And love contains all of the emotions. And if love is labor, then love can be taught. Love can be modeled. And love can be practiced.
Now what happens when we love beyond what evolution requires? What happens when we love others who do not look like us? What happens when we labor for even our opponents?
What happens when we love ourselves who we too often neglect? That is what I call revolutionary love. So revolutionary love is the choice to labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us and within us.
I believe that revolutionary love is the call of our times. Here's why. On the one hand, the call to love is ancient, love without limit. I first heard it when I was a little girl.
My grandfather helped raise me. And he would give me the heart of the Sikh faith, [NON-ENGLISH], that we are one, that we could look upon the face of anyone and say, you are a part of me I do not yet know. You are a part of me I do not yet know.
I will open myself to your story. I agree with you. I will fight for you if you are in harm's way.
That kind of love, this love without limit, to see anyone around us as our sisters, as our brothers, that kind of love has been dancing on the lips of spiritual teachers and Indigenous healers through the millennia. Abraham called us to open our tent to all, Jesus to love our neighbor, Buddha to practice unending compassion, Mirabai to love without limit, Muhammad to take in the orphaned.
When did you first hear that call to love? Why is it then, if love is at the heart of our spiritual traditions throughout the world across centuries, then why is it that our societies are so unequal and so divided? Why is it that entire groups of people have been marginalized for centuries? Why? Why is it that we see what we saw on January 6 or just last week?
Societies across the world have always been organized by a hierarchy of human value, systems that preserve the interests of one group of people over another. The oldest hierarchy of human value on this soil has been white supremacy, the ordering of value based on the color of our skin. And all these years later, we live in what Isabel Wilkerson, who Oliver mentioned earlier tonight, is a sort of caste system, a ranking of value, a ranking in order.
So when I lift up the call to revolutionary love, it is inherently disruptive, because it shakes the institutions that rely on us not to see that way. For if I see, Breonna Taylor a sister, George Floyd as brother, migrant child at the border as my own daughter, the Korean woman massacred in Atlanta as our own sisters, what would we do? What would you do?
How would you show up? What would you fight for? What would you risk if we truly saw no stranger?
[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], said Guru Nanak or the vision of Guru Nanak, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], I see no enemy. I see no stranger. If we train our eye to see differently, to see all others as part of ourselves, that itself is a revolutionary way to move through the world.
So I asked myself, what does it mean to reclaim love for a time such as this? I had a gift that few women, who are mothers and activists, are ever given. I had time off in a room of my own. And shortly after the 2016 election, I moved my family to the rainforest.
I had carried so much trauma in my own life that I hadn't reckoned with. You see, when I was a student in college, it was in the aftermath of September 11. In the wake of the horror of those attacks, sick Americans, my community, alongside Muslim Americans were beaten, stabbed, killed. The first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11 was Balbir Singh Sodhi, who I called Balbir Uncle.
He was a family friend. Back then, this was before YouTube. This was before Twitter or any kind of social media. Our stories were barely heard.
We were completely invisible. Hate violence rose by 600%. And yet, we were a blip on the evening news.
I think of this time that we're in now and how so many of our Asian-American sisters, brothers, family are suffering, how the wave of hate violence in the last year has been so devastating, that elderly people are afraid to leave their homes, that the slurs have become so common. And I think, oh, this feels so similar to exactly 20 years ago. And in all the years since, all the battles that we have had to fight be seen as fully human in this country, it just felt like, have we made no progress at all? But if we think about progress in this country, if we think about the story of America as a story of labor, America nation still waiting to be born, then progress in birthing labor is cyclical.
It's not linear. It's cyclical. So a series of expansions, and contractions, and every turn through the cycle gets us a little bit closer to what is wanting to be born. And so this moment for me, it may feel like previous traumas. It feels like the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi.
It feels like the death of Vincent Chin. For me, it feels like the last time Asian-Americans were slaughtered on the scale was nine years ago in Oak Creek, Wisconsin when the Sikh community was slaughtered by a white supremacist. It feels like that.
It may feel like that to you too. We've made no such progress, but if you think about progress is cyclical, then notice that the trauma may feel the same. The hate is the same. The white supremacy is the same.
The massacre looks the same. And yet, yet there are things happening now that I have never seen before. I had this newspaper on my desk of people volunteering in Oakland's Chinatown and here in Koreatown in Los Angeles volunteering to walk people home safely, acts of solidarity.
I did not see this 20 years ago, when it was my grandparents who I was worried about coming home at night. When it was my uncle who was murdered. I did not see this 20 years ago when we were barely trying to jump up and down to make the nation see that we were being attacked.
No, this we didn't see during the time of Vincent Chin either, or during the time of the internment even. How many traumas have we suffered alone in this country? How many times have we grieved alone in this country?
And yet, every time people, ordinary people, have shown up in acts of solidarity to say not in our name, to say you are our sister, you are a brother, you are a sibling. We will stand with you. We will fight for you.
We will raise our voice for you. Every time that has happened, it has opened up a little bit more space for equality, for liberation, for possibility. And this is what I wish to tell you now as students, that this moment, as traumatic as it feels, as horrific as it is, is also a moment where we are seeing acts of solidarity, acts of revolutionary love that we have not witnessed before in this country.
It took a massacre for the nation to turn the spotlight on Asian-Americans. Think about Asian-Americans as a racial group, all of our different kinds of people from different nationalities and languages all under one umbrella. What does it mean to be us? What are our experiences?
What are our stories? How have we suffered? And how are we not just victims? How are we people who have something to offer the nation?
We have something to teach America about what it means to show up with bravery and with what I call ancestral resilience. This kind of attention, this kind of moment, that's new. That's new, and so much of it is because of our Black sisters, and brothers, and siblings who labored for so long to be able to show up once again after George Floyd's murder and make the nation start to reckon with white supremacy in America.
The labor is long. And the labor is painful. And yet, every turn through the cycle, I believe that we are getting closer to the nation that wants to be born.
Here's the thing. I don't know how many more turns it's going to take before we are seen as full human. I don't know if my son and daughter will have to in 20 years continue to do their part in the cycle. What does it mean that Grace Lee Boggs, 100 some years old, when she died, Chinese-American Civil rights leader, she never saw the fruits of her labor? And yet, what kept her in the labor for decade after decade after decade?
What does it mean for us to grow as old as she and say that we can look back on our life and say we did our best? We showed up. We played our part. Even if it's an America that we might never live to see, we did our job.
How do we last in the labor? And why should why? What should we? 20 years in the labor myself, 20 years after 9/11, I want to tell you that while the labor is hard and well it is difficult to respond to moments like this again and again, when we labor with love, when we labor with love, love for others, love for even our opponents, and love for ourselves, then the labor becomes porous enough to let joy in.
It's possible to labor for a more just and beautiful world with joy. And laboring for a more just and beautiful world with joy is the meaning of life. So I'm inviting you into this labor. And for some of you, I'm inviting you to stay in this labor.
Stay, stay in it, because it will change you. It will enrich you. It will deepen you. It will awaken you. It will tether you to a community and to a movement that began long before we were born.
Participating in the labor has become the meaning of my life. And I believe that each of you has a role that only you can play. So how? How do we practice revolutionary love?
Back in that rain forest, I spent a long time trying to find the answer to how. How do we practice revolutionary love? And I poured through social movements, and wisdom traditions, and the science of human behavior, and my own life stories. And I chronicle them in my book, See No Stranger.
And I lived through a lot. I've lived through hate violence, and police brutality, and sexual assault. All of these really painful stories, each of them though opportunities to learn more deeply what it means to practice revolutionary love in all of our labors large and small. And I began to find patterns.
10 practices of revolutionary love that we have now been able to back with a team of researchers from the fields of neuroscience, ethics, education, peace building, and the science of human behavior. We created a framework called the Revolutionary Love Compass. Before I show it to you, I want to give you the three broad practices. And you can hear them now. And if anything speaks to you, you can take it into your heart knowing that you can always go deeper if you want to dive into the framework or to the book.
So number one, loving others, how do we practice loving others? That practice I call see no stranger, to train our eye to look upon the face of anyone and say, you are a part of me I do not yet know. I will wonder about you. I will hear your story.
I will let your grief into my heart. I will fight for you if you are in harm's way. That is inspiring so many of these acts of solidarity that we're seeing now.
But when I ask you to look up on the face of anyone and say, brother, sister, some of you may say, but how do we do that with people who we see as our opponents? People who we disagree with, people who hurt us, people who harm us, that practice, number two, I call tend the wound, tend the wound. You see, I've come to understand that there are no such thing as monsters in this world.
There are only human beings who are wounded, who do what they do out of their own sense of insecurity, or anxiety, or blindness, or greed. That doesn't make them any less dangerous. But when we tend the wound, we drain the power from them. They're not superhuman or super evil. They are wounded human beings who have been radicalized by cultures and authorized by institutions of power that we can change.
Tending the wound means to really understand what allows our opponents to continue to harm us. And it's not just a moral thing. It's a strategic practice. For, if I understand the context, then I'm not just about unseating a few bad actors. No, I'm interested in changing the cultures, the policies, the institutions that allow this kind of hate to continue.
But here's the thing. If you are someone who is in harm's way, if you have a knee on your neck right now, if you are someone like me who is Asian American and cannot bear to look at the face of the perpetrator in Atlanta, it is not your time. If you have a knee on your neck, it is not your role, necessarily, to look up at that opponent and try to wonder about them or to love them. No, your role, my love, is to survive.
It is to take the next breath. It is to tend to your own wounds, to your own trauma, to your own grief, to your own rage. Allow that to happen. Give yourself time for that. That's your revolutionary act.
Remember, revolutionary love is practiced in community, love for others, love for opponents, love for ourselves. We all have a given role at any given time. If you are someone who is safe enough by virtue of your skin color or your privilege to wonder about those kinds of opponents, maybe friends, or family, or relatives, or neighbors, or people in your social media world, in your life, who hold those kinds of beliefs, then we need you now.
We need you to sit with them. We need you to listen to them. We need you to try to understand them. We need you to be in relationship with them in some way. Because if they are left alone, who's going to get them?
What's the alternative? How much more will they be radicalized? If it's not for you, not for us, playing your role to say no, no, no. There is a version of the future that doesn't have to threaten you.
I have sat this book I talk about-- in See No Stranger, I talk about sitting with white supremacists, and prison guards, and soldiers, and my own former abusers, including the man who murdered Balbir Uncle 20 years ago, Frank Roque. And every time I sit with them, every time I want to hate them, I try to wonder about them. I ask myself, am I safe? And if I'm safe, emotionally and physically, then I stay. If not, I leave.
We all have a different role at any given time. If I'm safe, I listen. I wonder, and it always happens. Beneath the slogans, and beneath the soundbites, beneath my own revulsion, if I continue to wonder, you are a part of me I do not yet know. You have the story.
I begin to hear the story. And I begin to see the wound. And seeing the wound gives me information for how to respond and how to be smarter in our communities and our movements to try to change the culture that allows this to keep happening. I have discovered that so much of white nationalist rage is a symptom of unresolved grief.
They are grieving the notion of a nation that belonged just to them in the first place. They're grieving an illusion. And yet, they are still grieving. Someone needs to tend to that grief.
It might not be me. But it might be you. So what is your role? Who are the opponents in your life that you are ready to tend to?
And remember, if you're not ready now, it's OK. I couldn't reach out to Balbir Uncle's murderer for 15 years, couldn't even imagine it for 15 years, until I realized that this animosity I was carrying around inside me I didn't need anymore. I could just float it away. Forgiveness is not forgetting. We'll never forget.
Forgiveness is freedom from hate. So once we are free from our hate, then we can begin to wonder about those who have been severed from us. And once we forgive, it opens up the previously unimaginable possibility of reconciliation. Again, this takes time, and it's not everyone's role.
And it may not happen on the timeline that you want, which is why it's really important to imagine how we sustain ourselves in the labor, which brings me-- so we've talked about love for others, see no stranger, love for opponents, tend the wound. Love for ourselves, that practice I call breathe and push. Social reformers throughout history from Gandhi to King to Mandela, they taught us a lot about how to love others but not so much about how to love ourselves.
This is the feminist intervention. This is Black women like Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks who say, loving myself, caring for myself is not a form of self-indulgence. It's a form of political warfare. For those of us who live in bodies who are denigrated in this society, who chokes the breath out of us, loving ourselves as a political act, a revolutionary act.
The midwife says, breathe before the push. Breathe, my love. Breathe. How are you breathing today? Who are you breathing with?
How can you weave the breath throughout the day? Is it running, or dancing, or yoga, or singing? Is it just being? Is it breathing? What is it that you need to be able to love on yourself, care for yourself really well, before you make the next push?
Breathe, and then push, and then breathe again. And remember I talked about joy? You see, when we breathe, we open up space to let joy in, to be present here and now. For me, it's such an intentional practice.
On the darkest nights, even on the night we heard about the massacre, on the darkest nights, no matter how hard the day was, I dance with my children. They put on the music. And at first, I'm so miserable. And I'm swaying like a zombie.
And then my son leaps in my arms and says, throw me up mommy. I throw him up, and he's laughing. And then I'm laughing. And he's dancing, and I'm dancing. And my daughter is dancing.
We're dancing. We're dancing every night. And afterwards, I feel sparkling rising energy that I realize it's coming from inside me, nowhere else. In my tradition, in the Sikh tradition, it's called [NON-ENGLISH]. Ever rising joy, even in darkness, ever rising spirits, even in the midst of the pain of labor, it's possible.
It's possible to let joy in. Hope, for me, is a feeling that waxes and wanes. Will I see this America in my lifetime? Will I not? It goes, it comes and goes.
It's like a full moon and a new moon. I think it's there, but I can't see it. But it doesn't matter as long as my hands show up to the work, as long as I stay faithful to the labor. And the way that I stay faithful to the labor is by letting joy in every day.
How are you protecting your joy every day? We need all three forms of love for love to be revolutionary, loving others, loving opponents, loving ourselves. Loving only ourselves, that's a form of escapism. Loving only our opponents, that's self-loathing. Loving only others and forgetting how to love opponents, forgetting how to love ourselves, that is ineffective.
I want us to be able to do this culture work together. And we can do that together when we intentionally are able to build beloved community where we are. So what form of love are you longing for in your life right now? Are you ready to lean into loving others, building solidarity more?
Are you ready to do that hard and necessary work of loving your opponents? Which opponents are you ready to reach out to? Are you ready to do that work to love yourself well, so that you can last? We need you to last.
I'm going to ask Matt, our amazing tech person, to throw up the image of the compass. We've created a tool that we want to make available to all of you called the Revolutionary Love Compass. And if you're a visual learner, please-- and if this doesn't serve you, you can just float it away. But this is a compass I just want to put in your hands.
You see, you can turn it to anyone, and you could decide what practice you need in that moment. You can turn toward loving others and say, OK, how do I see no stranger? Wonder, do I wonder about them? Do I grieve with them? What is my role in fighting for them?
If the person in front of you is an opponent, you can say, how can I practice tending the wound? Well, it begins with rage, honoring your own wound, letting yourself process your own rage. And then only if it is safe, listen. Listen, not to persuade, but to understand them, and use that information to re-imagine. Re-imagine the context, the community, the future that we could have, one where our opponents too are freed from how they hurt us.
And if you turn the compass to yourself, how are you breathing and pushing? Breathe. How are you letting breath into your life as a form of caring for yourself? Push. How are you pushing, doing the work of pushing into the healing process, forgiveness, reconciliation, apology, whatever it is you need to be able to love on yourself well enough to grow and transition?
Those moments when you say, I can't, where it's too fiery, too painful. In transition and breathing labor, it is the final most dangerous stage. It's when we want to give up. But it's precisely in transition where we can draw upon our deepest bravery and say, oh no, my love. You are brave enough to breathe through this, to push through this, to change yourself, transition yourself as you are transitioning the world around you.
And when we are doing this, when we allow the compass just to be part of what guides us, revolutionary love is not a prescription. It's an orientation to life that is political and personal. And when we are orienting to life in this way, when we're thinking about our life as a series of experiments with revolutionary love, then the labor becomes joyful. Being alive becomes joyful.
It's possible to be awake to the world, the atrocities in this world, and still let joy in every day. That is how we last. That's how we become as old as Grace Lee Boggs.
So if you would like to take this compass into your life, you can go to the next slide, if you have it. If not, then we can put it in the chat. You'll see the learning hub for revolutionary love we have just released. You can go to valariekaur.com. It's all a free platform available to you full of practices and tools, and videos, and educational curricula.
And if there's anything that you take with you from tonight, I think I most want you to know that you're not alone, that you are part of a community here and now, that the fact that Oliver has created a space like this means that this is a community that values beloved community, that is dedicated to building it, to growing it, to cultivating it where we are. And if you need help, you reach out. And we are here to support you, to breathe with you.
I've been thinking a lot about ancestors and how we will be someone's ancestor one day. You will be someone's ancestor one day. We're living through an unprecedented time. And imagining that, one day, someone will summon you as their ancestor, will think about you as their ancestor.
What will they remember? Will they remember our trauma and our grief? Or will they remember our bravery and our joy? Will they remember how we practiced love, love without limit?
If we live our life with the aim of becoming good ancestors, then I think that too is the most meaningful life we could lead. I'm going to pause now, so that we have about 25 minutes for question and answer. And so grateful for you spending this time with me. Hi, Oliver.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Hi, Valarie. I think we share the gratitude right back at you for the deep wisdom, and for the perspective, and for the challenging words that you've given us about how to respond and meet this moment. Thank you. Thank you for behalf of all of us.
Audience, I do want to invite you to write your questions to Valarie in the Q&A. We have a few coming in, and we're going to try to get to as many of them as we can. So please drop those in the Q&A.
I think I'd like to start, Valarie, there's a question from Greta who says, thank you for your insights. Can you talk a little bit about how your framework aligns with systemic work? How do we do this work with a full heart and our own spheres of influence when we don't trust the systems, when they're not just, or holding harm doers accountable? It's hard not to feel like we're taking this approach in a vacuum.
VALARIE KAUR: Yeah. I developed the compass, and I developed the framework, precisely because I wanted to do the systemic work. I think people hear the word, love, and think it's reduced to how we are interacting with each other one on one. And while that is vital, that is essential. The systems that perpetuate oppression are made up of individuals.
And we have to be able to ask ourselves, how do we move the individuals who hold the levers of power to be able to see that the systems don't serve any of us? I'll give you an example. I haven't announced it yet. But in See No Stranger, I tell the story about the supermax prison in Connecticut.
It's a prison that has held hundreds of people, mostly Black and brown men in conditions of solitary confinement 23 hours a day in lockdown. And I spent a year with a group of law students investigating the prison and making a film about it. And I was just beginning to think about the work of revolutionary love back then. This was about eight, nine years ago.
And so I said, we can't just-- as much as I wanted to hate the prison guards, I was like, well, what if we saw them as human beings who had a story too? And we did something very controversial at the law school. We sat with the prison guards and officials of the Department of Corrections. And what we heard astounded us, high alcoholism rates, high suicide rates, high depression rates.
They were describing themselves as captives, which of course, infuriated us. How can you equivocate, equivalent-- make your experience equivalent to those behind bars? But their suffering doesn't need to be compared to still be suffering.
We began to understand that the real bad guy in the story was the institution itself that was harming in some way everyone who walked through those doors. An institution designed to make people dehumanize each other is cutting something off from the human spirit for any person who walks through those gates. So we made a film called The Worst of the Worst that told the stories of the prisoners and the prison guards.
And we made a case for why dismantling the prison was the only solution. You see, some institutions are so monstrous that they cannot be reformed. They cannot be re-imagined. They must be dismantled brick by brick. It seemed impossible.
It seemed impossible. And yet, we made the claim. And it was from this act, this radical act of love, to see every human being in the story as a human being. I am really proud and still astonished to say that nine years after we made that film, the Department of Corrections in Connecticut has just announced that they are dismantling Northern Correctional Facility. They are shutting it down.
And our film, our group of students were just a small blip of all of the formerly incarcerated, the families, the lawyers, the students, who year after year after year were struggling, were laboring, to make that institutional change. And how did they do it? How did they last? This is why revolutionary love is about how we last in the labor.
How did they do it? They had to love on themselves well enough to do it. They had to love on each other, form bonds of solidarity. So that even those who are outside of the prison community would be able to link arms and say, yes, this should not be happening in my neighborhood.
And some of them, only those for whom it was safe, someone like us, law students who could come in from the outside were given permission to think about what it meant to practice the love ethic for our opponents and to make the case that our opponents too needed to be freed of this system. That's how we did it. That's revolutionary love in practice.
And we dismantled a prison in a time when prison abolition is necessary and so difficult. If we did it in one state, we can do it in other states. And if we did it with one kind of institution, then imagine what this means for our economic systems, our other criminal justice systems, our education systems, our policing.
This revolutionary love framework is simply a way to invite people into the labor of problem solving that centers human dignity. It's not a progressive framework or a conservative framework. It's about human dignity. And once you do the magical, simple and yet transformative work of affirming that every person is a person and lead from that place of re-imagining together, then the impossible can happen.
It happened to happen in our lifetime. This was one of the few victories that we saw. But if it happened here, now, within the course of a decade, then what else can we change together?
So I put this compass in the hands of anyone who is truly invested in institutional change. And if you look at chapter six called Re-imagine, I talk about what it means to re-imagine policing, criminal justice, even a law school, a university. That any institution that we're part of needs us to do the work of transitioning it to become truly anti-racist and more just for all.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Thanks, Valarie, amazing news. And on the topic of law school, a couple of questions have come in. Jacqueline from the Cornell Law School writes, what words do you have for law students who are feeling disillusioned with legal systems and barriers as well as the system of law school itself? And another law school student says, how can I contribute to change and revolutionary love while steeped in a system that at times is divorced from love or feelings? So some questions from our law students.
VALARIE KAUR: Both of you are exactly right in your questions. The questions themselves tell me that you are awake. The language of law is a language of power. The language of law is designed to colonize your imagination, to let the other ways that you are knowing, and speaking, and believing, and understanding, and living through the world, to make those ways of knowing insignificant if it doesn't follow this particular criteria of what constitutes a legal reason.
Law schools were not designed for most of us to be there. If you are not white, or male, or landowning, or straight, it was not designed for you. And so if you feel like you are lost, or you feel like you don't have a place here, if you feel like you don't belong, it's not you. It's the institution, and you do belong.
We need you there, because the only way the institution changes, it may feel incremental, is if you're there imagining it differently. My recommendation to you, because that's a lot when you're just trying to get the grades and get the clerkship or do the summer internships. It's a lot. Like, I'm supposed to change all of legal pedagogy too? Well, this is all you have to do.
All you have to do, my love, is find other like-minded law students. The two of you who asked the question, I hope you know each other. Because all-- and this too is in chapter six. I found other women of color who felt as lost and as marginalized as I did.
No one was actually doing it. It was just in the air of the law school. It was just how legal pedagogy is. Once I found others who felt that as I did, we began to meet outside of the institution. Meet outside, create your own pocket, where you're able to remind yourself why you came to law school in the first place, what matters to you, who you are, what you want to be, why you are here, how you want to change the world.
As naive or innocent as it, as the law school makes it sometimes feel, speak it to each other. Witness it in each other. Hold it, and ask yourselves, OK, what changes am I ready to make? What should I be doing now and next? What choices can we help each other make?
In the beginning, it will feel like a pocket of resistance. But it might be another person joins, and another, and another, and another. And soon, you might have the ability to look at different parts of the law school and say, we can do that differently. We can re-imagine this.
This is how we can lift up people of color. This is how we can lift up women's voices. We did that 10 years ago, when I was in law school. And I could never have imagined that 10 years later, the women of law school would throw an all out revolt, really calling out misogyny and patriarchy, staging sit-ins, protest signs in the courtyard, and things I could never have imagined.
But it was all those invisible acts, those small pockets of resistance that then ultimately can lead to a revolutionary moment. So your active imagining differently, gathering together like that, it's not only for your own survival. It's how you can contribute to shifting slowly but inevitably the consciousness of the institution itself.
So begin there. Trust yourself there. And know that, out of law school, you have lots of opportunities to decide where you want to be. Do you want to be-- if you're too disillusioned with it, it might not be your role to be inside of it, where you have to be the one speaking the language of the law and also be the one watching yourself from the outside. It's a lot to carry those two sensibilities.
And for a while, I was there. You might be someone who is better suited on the outside, like I have been. You might be someone who moves back and forth between them. I've also been that. The beauty about a law degree is that you have some versatility with how you want to engage with power. But whether you're on the inside or you're outside, you're always going to engage with power.
So it's OK to learn the language of power. It's OK to learn the language of law. It's OK to surrender to it, to let yourself be trained by it. Just always keep alive those other parts of your imagination and you won't lose who you are or who you're meant to be.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Beautiful, thank you, Valarie. I'm going to switch gears a little bit from law into religion which may seem like an odd transition. But for us at Cornell, it's an easy transition. The law school happens to sit adjacent on campus to the religious life building. So we feel like good friends together.
So there's a question from Yom who says, thank you so much for coming to speak with us tonight. I'm very curious to know about your experience in religious studies as a Sikh woman in the United States. Religion is often used to divide people, especially in the US post 9/11. But you have been working to bring people together. How did you experience studying religion? And maybe just to expand on that, what other insights might you have for us about how religion can be a tool in this larger project of revolutionary love?
VALARIE KAUR: Well, to answer that first, the call to love, in its fullest, most magnificent form, comes to us from wisdom traditions, from the great religious traditions, from Indigenous traditions. If you look at the mystical heart of any of the great wisdom traditions, there is this turning to oneness, this ability to say, we are interconnected. We are interdependent. And therefore, we must love one another or die.
So much of my work has been recovering that call to love. And it's in different languages, different fluencies. It's not all the same. There's no sameness here.
It's all different articulations of the heart of this thing that's a few thousand years old, this recognition of our oneness, and the call to love in the face of it. What's happened, of course, is that, like any institution, religions accumulate all the mechanisms of human desire, human power, human control. And the stories, and the songs, and scriptures, which can feel so liberating, and loving, and transformational often get silenced or suppressed inside of institutions that, again, create more hierarchies of human value, saved versus unsaved, us versus them.
And I can't think-- there hasn't been another force that has created so much devastation, destruction, forms of supremacies in the last century than religion and nationality. So just as I am not abandoning the notion of a nation state, and I still am holding the promise of America as a nation still waiting to be born, so too, I'm not abandoning the notion that religion and the heart of religion has something to offer us here and now. My contribution is to say, how do we reclaim the heart of love from these traditions? So that it is something that everyone can drink from whatever faith you are.
It could be that you come to love through various paths as a Christian, as a Jew, as a Muslim, as a humanist, as a secularist, however you come to love. Once you get here, here's how we can practice it together. So the framework for revolutionary love is it's a human tool. No matter who you are, no matter what your sources of inspiration are, you can share mine or not. But once you get there, then we can build a beloved community together no matter what.
Oh, as a Sikh woman, I just imagine there might be some students like me who-- it's really hard. White supremacy is continuous with Christian supremacy. And oftentimes, I've been in spaces that appear progressive, that use the words of pluralism, but really it's inclusivism.
It's like, come under my tent. We're multifaith, but you're using Christian language, Christian imagery, Christian song, and scripture, and format. And you have me there, and you call it multifaith. I used to just be grateful to be there.
I wouldn't even say anything. I was like, oh, I'm so happy I'm here. Let me offer you my prayer. Now, I'm becoming a little more daring.
It's like, all right. If you're really multifaith here, then what if it's this music? What if it's these songs? What if it's this imagery? And we're in a time when we need to recover wisdom from the margins.
And so what I think about what Sikh wisdom has to offer, it's robust. It's vital. It's like joy in the face of darkness. It's love that's revolutionary. I mean, it's oneness.
I mean, it's a young religion. And some argue it has accumulated less of the baggage. And there's some essential stuff we can offer here for how to push justice in America. And I think that's the case for other marginalized religions too.
So this is an invitation and a challenge to anyone who holds-- I'm like, hi, Oliver, who holds multifaith spaces. What is the next level of awakening? And the fact that you have me here to start the series is a testament that you're already there. You're already doing it.
But yeah, what does it mean to really get risky, to surrender to undoing ways we know how to gather and to let that change us? If we're going to become a multiracial and multifaith nation, we can't expect the nation as a whole to do it, unless we're practicing it in our small spaces. To undo white supremacy, Christian supremacy, to become truly plural, multi, it means really giving voice to everyone at the table, allowing those on the margins to lead us through the transition to do things differently. I'm beginning to see a little glimpse of that here and there, little acts of revolutionary love here and there. That gives me hope for what might be possible for all of us.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Thank you, Valarie. I take the words to heart. And I see many other of our chaplains from Cornell United Religious Work here. So I hope we're all taking good note. It's an important challenge for us.
Our time is so close. There's one question that's come in that we're not going to able to get to all of them. But I think it's maybe a helpful question to end on. Susan asks, where to begin? There are so many justice issues that desperately need fixing in America today.
Is there any way to summarize them in terms of two or three important actions, she asks. For example, combating racism, strengthening democracy, getting rid of guns, the tragedy in Atlanta involved a gun, and tonight again, she says, some idiot showed up in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. So Susan's question is, how do we prioritize or organize the various elements of this struggle?
VALARIE KAUR: Oh my love, I wish there was a formula for you. The truth is everything that you have named is connected. You pull the string of any one of them, you pull the string in Atlanta, and you get misogyny, and white supremacy, and gun violence, and poverty, and all the other. You pull the string on any one, you get all the others.
It's all connected. It's a society that needs to remember, needs to learn, how to love and how to organize beloved community through policy, through norms, through cultural interaction, that values the life of every human being. So the good news is that, while there is no prioritizing per se that way, you can begin where you are.
I know that you are on a front line. But there are many front lines. You can begin exactly where you are. When I call for institutional transformation, there are all institutions, not just policing or criminal justice, or education. Your home is an institution, your house of worship, your child's elementary school.
Every institution is a container for community. Every container for community needs us to do the labor to show up to it, to transition it, to become truly anti-racist, equitable, sustainable. So how do you do that work with love? If you're showing up with love, then you're making sure that no one is left behind.
So I say trust that where you are, what, just look around where you are, what arenas you're already interacting with, and know that that is exactly where you can make a difference here and now in the course of your life. I will leave you with-- I say, no formula, then I'm going to give you a formula. Because I do believe that, in the history of this country, we know enough about the history of trauma and oppression in this country to have some guidelines.
If we're in spaces where we are centering Black Lives, because anti-Blackness is the oldest form of human hierarchy on this soil. And so there is no collective liberation without Black liberation, then we know, we know that we're on the right track. Center Black Lives.
If we are beginning with Indigenous memory and Indigenous histories, the way that Oliver did at the beginning of our session, for the true history of the Americas is the memory of Indigenous peoples. And they've already survived the apocalypse. They have something to teach us about how we can get through this. Then we know that we're orienting the right way.
If we're following the lead of women of color, often, if they are disabled or women without status, women who hold complexity in their being, in their body, their breath, we know that more often than not that they'll make sure that we'll leave no one behind. So center Black Lives. Start with Indigenous history and memory, and follow the lead of women of color.
And make sure white people in the space, or whatever privileged folks are in the space, don't see themselves as allies but accomplices. Allies, I'm here for you. Call on me when you need me. Am I invited in? Do I have permission?
Permission granted, you are accomplices. Conspire with us to break these chains of oppression. Conspire with us to reorder the culture, the institution around us. You have a role to play.
Remember, revolutionary love, love for others, our opponents, and ourselves, a lot of that opponent work is stuff that maybe they won't sit with me. But they might sit with you. We all have different roles in community and in a movement.
And so I say that, if that's useful for you, take it. Take it, and use it. And if you're part of a community who is ready to do this work and wants to do it with love, then you can look at the Revolutionary Love Compass as a tool, one of many, to help you in that.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Thank you, Valarie. And you did not tell me to say this, but I am going to say, for those who want yet another tool, I'm going to do a shameless plug for your book, which is outstanding. And it fleshes out so much of the material you've shared with us tonight and so much of a deeper fashion. So really, to anyone who has not had a chance to check out this book, I cannot recommend it to you enough, See No Stranger.
Valarie, I'm sorry that our time has come to an end. But this has been a deeply enriching and inspiring time. You have whet our appetite for not only this conversation but also for the work that you have called us and invited us to.
And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. You have an open invitation any time you're in Ithaca to stop by Sage Chapel, to stop by Anabel Taylor Hall. And we look forward to continuing the conversation down the road.
VALARIE KAUR: Oliver, may I close with one last thing?
OLIVER GOODRICH: Please.
VALARIE KAUR: You mention See No Stranger, and I'm hearing the questions and the earnestness in the questions and the appetite for solution. And I'm just going to read to you a paragraph from the book. And I will close with it as my final offering to you all. If you have the book, it's page 257.
"I had forgotten the stars burning so strong and long that their light reaches us long after they have died. Isn't that what our lives and our activism should look like? Not the supernova, a single outburst under pressure, no. We must be the long burning star, bright and steady, contained and sustained, for our energy to reach the next generation long after we die.
Oh and to be part of constellations. Let us see ourselves as part of a larger picture, even if we are like the second star on Orion's belt or the seventh of the Seven Sisters, for there is no greater gift than to be part of a movement larger than ourselves. That means that we only need to be responsible for our small patch of sky, our specific area of influence. We need only to shine our particular point of light long and steady to become part of stories sewn into the heavens."
OLIVER GOODRICH: Thank you, Valarie. Thank you. And thank you all for being with us tonight. Before you log off, I want to share just a couple of quick announcements.
First, I want to say that a recording of tonight's event is going to be made available on our website through Cornell Cast. So that link will be available at scl.cornell.edu/echochambers. I'll try to get that in the chat for you, and that should be up later this week.
And secondly, I also just wanted to remind folks that the nominations are open for the James A Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony in the Student and Campus Life Diversity Awards. There's so much good work being done in the areas that Valarie has talked to us tonight already on our campus. And the Perkins Prize and the Student and Campus Life Diversity Awards recognize members of our community who have made significant contributions in these areas.
So you can learn more or submit a nomination for a worthy person or group through our website. And that will also be posted in the chat. So please take your nominations.
They're closing soon, at the end of the month. So if you haven't had a chance, make sure you do that soon. And the email address also is in the chat.
Thanks, again, for being with us tonight, all. It's been such a pleasure, and we look forward to welcoming you at future events in this series as well. Thanks, again, and thanks, again, Valarie.
VALARIE KAUR: And we're going to leave with a song.
OLIVER GOODRICH: Let's leave with a song. Send us out with some music.
VALARIE KAUR: I think Matt's going to play us out with a song written for us called See No Stranger by Ani di Franco. Enjoy.
[MUSIC - ANI DI FRANCO, "SEE NO STRANGER"]
(SINGING) See no stranger. Let's break this thing open, and distance is dangerous. So I'll pull you close in.
See no monster. We all come here broken, but love can unbreak us if it goes unspoken.
See no stranger, not saying I'm a savior. But I'm here to show you that open is braver. See no monster, because monsters are fiction. Real people are messy and so is forgiveness.
The act of forgiveness is such a tricky business. Let me hear your story, and I'll be your witness. Let me be your sister. Let me be your brother. Let me see you now with the eyes of a mother.
See no monster just more learned behavior. Under his thick skin is something so tender. See no stranger, no typecast, no token. See all people as people in motion.
There are no monsters. There are no strangers. That's just the shedding of armor. This act of forgiveness is such a tricky business.
Let me hear your story, and I'll be your witness. Let me be your sister. Let me be your brother. Let me see now, with the eyes of a mother.
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Author, attorney, and filmmaker Valarie Kaur kicked off a new series from Cornell United Religious Work on March 22, 2021. The series, “Into and Out of the Echo Chambers,” seeks to address current societal challenges and to consider how spirituality and humanizing practices might help us meet the moment together.
Kaur spoke about her book, "See No Stranger," and invited attendees to consider what spiritual dispositions, humanizing practices, and interpersonal skills might help us meet this profound moment of social change.