There is a movie called The Help. It is about the condition of African American women in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. The women are all housemaids. The depiction of the everyday racism is jolting. The women are trapped in a hopeless system.
At the risk of extreme punishment, the maids are asked by an author to tell their stories. To do so means certain punishment. As events unfold the women find the courage to tell their stories. Their stories are published and become a part of the culture of the Civil Rights Movement.
Their circumstances do not improve, but, because they exercised courage and told their stories, their lives are filled with increased meaning. They feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. They can therefore better endure their lot in life.
I am reminded of a sentence from Parker Palmer: “The greatest punishment we can inflict on ourselves is to conspire in the diminishment of our own potential.”
We cannot compare the experience of the maids to our own lives, and yet like the maids there are times when we too feel full of fear. When we feel this fear we “conspire in the diminishment of our own potential.”
We can learn how to engage in our own self-elevation. This does not happen through anger, resistance and rebellion. It happens through internal work. As we clarify our deepest purpose, increase our integrity and authenticity, orient to the needs of others and find ways to co-create a better future, we change and so does our context. We begin to grow in self-respect and we recognize the expansion of our own potential. This kind of courageous work creates a new life story, one that is worth living and worth telling. We become more empowered and more empowering to our community.