the word that will change the world

Last night I went to bed to the news that nine people had been murdered at a well-known African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

This morning I woke up to the news that in spite of the racially-motivated murders, the Confederate flag is still flying in South Carolina’s capitol.

This is a problem.

It’s a problem because the Confederate flag represents the pro-slavery advocates in the Civil War.

It’s a problem because it represents the sentiment of white supremacy groups who support discrimination and violence against people of other races.

It’s a problem because it reinforces North versus South, a division that hundreds of thousands of men died to heal more than 150 years ago.

But South Carolina’s Confederate flag represents more than a Black-and-White or North-and-South problem.  It represents a problem that applies to each of us.


South Carolina’s Confederate flag is a symbol of dualism, a crude and immature way of thinking that oversimplifies groups, creates arbitrary lines between them, and divides into “us” and “them,” always pointing the finger at the other side and accusing them of being the one who’s different, the one who’s the problem.

Our society has been fractured by dualism and instead of growing beyond it, we have redoubled our efforts and fractured more.

North versus South.

Black versus White.

Male versus Female.

Gay versus Straight.

Republican versus Democrat.

Natives versus Immigrants.

Conservative versus Liberal.

In religious circles, we’ve fractured even more.

Complimentarian versus Egalitarian.

Calvinist versus Armenian.

Protestant versus Catholic.

Denominational versus Non-denominational.




As long as we divide the world between “us” and “them,” as long as we stand on our side of the line and point the finger away from ourselves, as long as we identify “them” as the source of the problem, what happened in South Carolina will continue to happen, both in our physical world, and in our hearts.

It will continue to happen until we start using the word that will change the world: WE. 

Those who live in other states can’t point the finger at South Carolina and say, “They have a problem.”

No, “WE have a problem.”


Those who live in safe neighborhoods can’t point the finger at neighborhoods with higher crime rates and say, “They have a problem.”

No, “WE have a problem.”


Those who identify with a particular political party can’t point the finger across the aisle and say, “They are making a mess out of our country.”

No, “WE are making a mess out of our country.”


When we start using “WE,” the world begins to change.

Communities that have divided over race or economics begin to come together.

Political adversaries shake hands and work towards compromise instead of perpetuating conflict.

Men begin to advocate for women’s equal pay.

Citizens begin to welcome and include immigrants.

Religious communities begin to work together for the greater good instead of dividing over ridiculously meaningless differences.

Young people develop relationships with older generations, and vice versa.

Using the word that changes the world will cost us something.

It will cost us the identity we’ve adopted (albeit a false one) that has made us feel secure.

It will cost us the “right” to be indignant.

It will cost us our comfort.

It will cost us our well-massaged ego.

It will cost us our passivity.

It will cost us our aggression.

It will cost us if we begin to use the word that changes the world.   But it will cost us more if we don’t.

Today, we can begin to change the world with one small and simple act.

Any time we’re tempted to say “they,” let’s say “we” instead.

The bad news out of South Carolina today is not that they have a problem; it’s that WE have a problem.

The good news is that WE are all part of the solution.

Thanks for sharing!

8 thoughts on “the word that will change the world

  1. Just finished reading Invisible Girls. What an inspiring story you’ve lived and told. Googled your name and found this blog. I couldn’t agree with you more re your comments on dualism. (I am a Richard Rohr reader also.). Keep up the wonderful work you’re doing. Would also like to know how the Somalian “girls” are all doing:-). Thank you, Sarah/Sahara, Warm regards, Linda Stone, New Orleans, LA

  2. WE SHOULD ALL READ THIS ESSAY. BRILLIANT. I’d like to think that WE CAN DO IT. Thank you for writing it.

  3. The history of the Confederate flag traces its roots with the KKK post Civil War. It was never adopted buy any of the Confederate States. That being said, I could care less if that flag flies today, as it doesn’t represent what it did over a hundred years ago. Today, many people from the south claim it represents southern pride, not racist bigotry. This doesn’t negate that there is still racism, but that this symbol isn’t what it used to represent. The reason it was not lowered at half staff is because state law does not require it. I, personally, have no ties to this flag. But I do live in the south, and I do have a lot of friends who proudly display their southern pride through the display of this flag (usually on clothing). To each their own. Stating that we should remove this flag altogether continues to signify division over one’s opinion over another’s. How about WE, as you so nicely put it, respect the fact that it’s still there, and leave the flag alone. Because we cannot change our history, but we can learn from it, and change it for our future. Removing a flag doesn’t do anything other than create more division. To pretend we aren’t all different and have different points of view paints the unrealistic umbrella of conformity, not diversity, and there is nothing wrong with that, diversity, that is. Diversity creates individuality and strays from conformity. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with being different, having a different point of view, and having a differing opinion. I’m also open to diversity because it means we learn and grow as human beings. I can see why people can be “gung ho” about your “inspiring” and “motivational” speech. But do me, and all of the other people who appreciate diversity a favor and open up your mind. You learn a lot more about the world when you experience diversity, instead of encouraging conformity. Life would be boring if WE were all the same. No one would grow. No one would learn. No one would be happy.

  4. Really appreciated your insightful sharing on the issues of dualism in American culture (as one example), or as I more crudely put it, the “crossfiring of America with labels to boot.” The great thing about “We” (as so well applied in the closing quote”) is that it is perfectly applied to diversity, embraces diversity, without chucking responsibility to engage each other collectively as if We really do have problems which our diversity can and should be brought to bear to solve. Great word choice (as ever).

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