by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
The older you get, the more patience you’ll acquire. You won’t get as upset at asinine statements, ignorant folks and stupid people. If you’re honest, you’ll see yourself in them and recognize before you woke up to reality, you said and did some stupid things yourself.
Age forces you to accept the fact that life isn’t fair. But you add the caveat that you probably wouldn’t want it to be. If life were truly fair, the IRS probably would have audited you by now.
Your spouse would have found out what you were really doing that night you were out with the fellas, or on that business trip.
If life was fair, your parents would have thrown you out of the house when you were 17, and chances are you would have a police record for the crime you didn’t think was so significant at the time. It was, however, a crime.
Thank God life isn’t fair.
During the process of getting older, I learned that nobody is perfect, and we have to accept people’s imperfections along with their contributions. It also taught me that sometimes good people do positive things for the wrong reason, and bad things for reasons that seemed like a good ideal at the time.
It’s taught me that not all men who claim to be ‘called’ by God had unlisted numbers. That you are indeed lucky if you have one lifelong friend, and that if we wake up every morning thinking that this could possibly be your last, you’ll experience the most important lesson God offers mankind.
Life’s most important lessons are learned from mistakes. But you’ll learn only if you recognize your error. The real lesson is that you’ll never know, or appreciate the heat unless you’ve suffered from long exposure to the cold.
The years have taught me not to take criticism personally (depending on the source, of course), and to keep personalities out of debates, particularly political ones. Equally important, I’ve learned to respect, if not accept people’s opinions, even if they are diametrically opposite my own.
I’ve learned to agree to disagree and to state my position with conviction in the hopes that logic will prevail. At the same time, only a fool listens with his mouth in motion.
That said, I don’t get mad at conservatism, nor do I expel Black conservatives from the African American family because their ideology may be opposite mine, particularly if they are sincere.
If that perspective, age has cured my myopia.
Many folks have questioned why I don’t lambaste Black conservative James T. Harris during our debates on television, or why I have frequently defended Sheriff David Clarke from the Black status quo. The obvious answer is that they are African American and age and experience has taught me only weak trees have a single branch.
But I’ll be more succinct.
Fact of the matter is I like both James and David, and even if I didn’t, I’m not in the habit of dissing Black folks to appease missionaries.
And, if truth be told, there is substance to the assumption that African Americans (at least those over 40) are socially conservative, but politically liberal.
My mother, sister, brother and uncle are ministers. Many of their views may be considered conservative, as are some of mine. I believe the nuclear family is the foundation of Black America, and I don’t have a problem with prayer in the public schools. Prayer has never been the problem of Black America; lack of prayer however is another subject. In other words, I rather see our children praying, than be preyed upon.
I don’t want the government in my bedroom, or bathroom for that matter. And I support most of what Bill Cosby espouses.
Conversely, I support affirmative action–with quotas– reparations and the fundamental principles of Black Nationalism.
What does that make me? A moderate? Or someone who is open minded, pragmatic and wise enough not to lump everything into one political or ideological box.
Age has certainly taught me that if you learn to use your eyes and ears more than your mouth, life will teach you many valuable lessons.
You learn not to hold grudges, and never to spit into a strong wind. You come to the conclusion that Heaven is not a crowded place and it really doesn’t matter if the chicken or the egg came first.
Skies get bluer as you get older, and the moonlight is more omnipotent. You also learn to appreciate seasonal changes, even if I still can’t appreciate snow.
I’m not among those who say midlife is the best time of my life, but it does signal a new beginning, one of greater understanding and appreciation of things you took for granted in your earlier years.
If you’re among that group who pays attention during life classes, you’ll find getting older often means you have very little (if any) tolerance for intolerance, prejudice and stupidity. I’ve lived by the adage that knowledge is power, the absence of knowledge is ignorance, and the abuse of knowledge is stupidity.
I’ve been forced over the years to accept the wisdom of the serenity prayer, although I also find truth in the poem about how a tiny footprint in the sand can change the course of the mighty ocean.
I admit it used to frustrate me when Black people didn’t vote, participate in civil rights activities, or referred to each other as niggers. And it still frustrates the hell out of me.
But age has taught me that freedom isn’t free, most Black people are still brainwashed, and progress is a long time coming when people move in slow motion.
But a change is coming, because there’s the universal order, and life’s only constant.
Unfortunately for Black Americans, God is doing unto us what he did to the Hebrews, and for the same reason. The only difference is instead of wandering 40 years in the wilderness, our penalty is 400 years in stagnation.
How else to explain it?
Five decades on this earth, travels to more countries than I can remember, and participation in a war across the ocean and one on these shores (the Civil Rights Movement) has enabled me to see life through a prism of experiences that few are privy to. I’ve come to the conclusion that people are intrinsically different, but essentially the same. People of all races and nationalities share similar wants, needs and desires. The lifelong quest of most people is for power, followed by security and finally affection/respect.
Often, those elements are transversed, depending on your upbringing and social status.
Maturity has taught me that politics was never intended to solve the world’s problems, but instead to advance agendas.
Thus, no political party really has the answer (and isn’t really looking for one). As a result, little of what they do will affect the man on the bottom.
One of the most impactful lessons I learned about politics came before I discovered that the Democrats and Republicans are different wings on the same bird, before I voted for the first time or tried to influence the political order.
I met a poor farmer in Vietnam who told me that he had a son fighting for the North Vietnamese, and another who fought for the South Vietnamese. It was not because of their political views, but more a matter of pragmatism; whichever side won, he would be on the right side.
But that wasn’t really the lesson. As he surmised, it didn’t matter which side won, his condition wouldn’t change.
He was poor before the war, and would be poor after. His life of bare-boned survival would continue.
It took many years and a thousand examples for that lesson to sink in. But with age comes acceptance.
The poor mother of four, with little hope and fewer options has not fared any better under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle than she did under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.
Political promises aside, how has Black America, at least those on the bottom, fared under the promises of Clinton, the Bushes, Carter or Reagan?
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, the Black poverty rate was 40%. When Barack Obama signed the $1 trillion dollar stimulus (American Recovery Act) Black poverty was 40%.
Johnson’s policies earmarked over $5 trillion in poverty programs (most of which benefited the poverty pimps), and the poverty rate a half-century later remained consistent.
Civil rights laws, affirmative action and desegregation and where are we today? Eight out of every ten children born out of wedlock, 70% of Black households headed by women, and a 50% Black high school drop out rate. So much for social programming. Or maybe the joke’s on us, again.
Maybe Michael Jackson, who ran from being Black, was right: we should look in the mirror.
Age teaches you to take life with a grain of salt, and to use the rest of the shaker on hidden agendas, political promises, and quick fixes to long-standing social problems. And you’ll need a bucket of sea salt when a missionary group champions a Black cause.
Lastly, age has comforted me with the reality of Rev. John McVicker’s favorite sayings: “The only way to get through it is to go through it.”
Or, as Winston Churchill once scribed, if you find yourself walking through hell, keep walking.
Heaven, I sincerely hope, is at the other end of Hades.
November 18, 2015 //
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