To Merely Survive
Just the other day a colleague and dear friend of mine Mr. Jefferson, and I were having a heart to heart conversation. He advised me that his air conditioner recently broke and had to be either repaired or replaced. The unit was not under warranty and the scorch of a Texas summer makes air conditioning an absolute must.
During our conversation Mr. Jefferson stated that the repair or replacement would cost money he did not have and that the situation had caused friction between him and his wife. More significantly, he shared how he had grown weary, so very tired of always struggling; of barely surviving.
While I sympathized with his plight and shared one or two of my own, I do not worry about Mr. Jefferson. The brother is intelligent, hard-working and a good provider. He is blessed with a good wife and a strong family who love him. Moreover, he is one of the sharpest men I know. In a world of playas and pimps, gangstas and thugs, this is a good man who will prevail no matter the difficulty; regardless the circumstances.
But the conversation raises a number of important questions for and about our community. One of the things of which we are most proud is our ability to survive the worst that life has to offer. We are still here despite of or perhaps because of all we have endured, including but not limited to the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, the inhumanity of slavery and the ethnic terrorism thereafter, the Civil Rights Movement, the “War on Drugs”, cum the “War on Us” and the more insidious travesty of black on black crime and gun violence. Ours is truly a unique voyage.
The survival instinct has been so internalized by African-Americans as to be part of our DNA. To endure, to carry on is our theme, our focus, our very purpose. In other words survive is not what we do. To survive is who we are.
But while survival is absolutely essential, is mere survival enough? We think not. A persuasive argument can be made that to barely survive is wholly inadequate.
For one thing mere survival breeds complacency. It is the rusty nail that allows us to complain and only complain sans any effort to improve our circumstances. It is the false sense of security and the unwarranted feeling of accomplishment. It is the unconditional surrender to the status quo; the habit of settling for and otherwise tolerating that which we abhor rather than pursuing that which we deserve.
Consider for example work. How many of us hate our jobs, I mean really despise them? Yet we remain in positions that devalue us by engaging in a pattern of inane rationalizations, false equivalencies, and faulty comparisons. “I’m blessed to have a job” we reason or “at least I’m not doing as badly as are they” we believe, the accuracy of which is beside the point.
To have a stable source of income while so many others are unemployed is indeed reason to feel blessed. And no one wants to be at the bottom of the pile. Yet a horrible job is still a horrible job and therefore provides no reason to be complacent. Nor does it obviate the responsibility of finding a more fulfilling way of earning a living.
And it matters not that someone else’s position is worse than ours. The standard of comparison is not the nadir but the apex. In other words if we must make comparisons, it should be to those who are doing well rather than those who are doing not so well.
In addition, bare survival is an opiate, as addictive as any street drug. It hooks us, making us fiend for just another hit of always struggling yet never advancing. It is a blindfold which blocks and distorts our vision, blinding us to greater possibilities. To merely survive causes us to focus on the pavement rather than marvel at the heavens.
Less than an attitude and more than a condition, naked survival is a position; a location that places us behind the eight ball rather than near the finish line. It is the trap of life scarring denials and unfulfilled dreams. It is a prison of chains around our hands and feet; shackles that stretch from the present generation to the past, the last to the first. To barely survive is a penitentiary which locks us up and straps us down; a cell block of despondency and a cage of despair.
And worst, bare survival does more than prevent us from achieving. It is a cruel and unrepentant thief who steals our hopes and dreams. It so tires and frustrates us, so depletes our physical, emotional and intellectual resources that we have nothing left to give. All we can manage is to survive, just barely, if that.
There is a real and material difference between surviving and thriving; between existing and prospering. And while basic survival is good and necessary, it is little to brag about. Hence, to merely survive is a cruel illusion. One either moves forward or slowly but inexorably dies.
In conclusion, we stand on the cusps of a great decision, whether to continue as we have or to make fundamental changes in our attitude and the way we approach life. Any passage, all crossings, no matter the distance, regardless the destination, notwithstanding the traveler is fraught with peril. This is particularly true of family, for which the trail of years has been populated by hardships every step of the way.
We are understandably weary and some are unwilling to change; to do anything more than to merely survive. But change we must. It must never be forgotten that some of our ancestors preferred the bare survival of slavery to the possibilities of freedom.
The question is what is the road to prosperity? We hope to answer this query in the next Blackacre blog.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum