Dr. Susan Rounds reflects on Hope and Change in America

Jun 23, 2020

The following is from President Dr. Susan Rounds in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and the recent events in Minneapolis and around the world.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black American writer and author of the best-seller Between the World and Me, was asked in a recent interview to comment on what he sees now as he looks out on our country. He replied “I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but I see hope. I see progress right now.” He is heartened by the broad coalition of people who have come out to protest police violence against Black Americans. He went on to question the basic assumptions that lead us to talk about policing using “the language and rituals and invocations of war.” He says, “This is deep in Western philosophy, this notion that man is naturally in a state of war. That if you left us alone, what we would do is we would go and kill each other. Is that true? Or is that just an assumption that we made? I’m all here for the conversation that says maybe we should start from somewhere else.”

I have listened to and read other thoughtful commentators who also see grounds for hope. They believe that there seems to be, in the words of one, a “re-alignment of the stars” which has brought about a radical shift in how people understand what is going on. While there have been incidents of violence as protests have spread around the country and around the world, the vast majority have been peaceful. Books for children and adults about racial injustice and the black experience in America are flying off the shelves in unprecedented numbers. It appears that many people have been touched by the suffering they have seen. They are ready to work on themselves and their children and in their communities to ensure that the future is brighter than the past.

When I think about the kind of work that needs to be done in light of these recent developments, I realize that it's the same work that has always been essential for true progress. That work is internal and individual, and yet it connects us with every being in the world. I remember the words of John Donne, who wrote in 1623:

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

We know that true filial respect means recognizing our bonds with every other living creature.  I think of the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, who hears the sounds of the suffering world and brings healing to all in pain. Bodhisattvas have vowed to remain in the world to aid beings in awakening to the inherent wisdom and light of their fundamental natures. The work of the bodhisattvas is also our work. Nurturing our hearts of compassion and loving-kindness, patiently working to reduce our anger and hostility, we send positive bright energy to ourselves, our families, our communities and out into the world.  That is work that we can do every day, no matter where we are. That is the work that will truly change the world.