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Personal essays

Going High - Essay from Newsletter 21

Doing what it takes to get there


Each week I sit down to write this newsletter and think I know what I want to write about and each week I’m surprised.

Every author has the experience of having a book not go where they intended it to. The characters or the story took it somewhere else.

An essay derives from the French word for try.

And so each week I try to capture my thoughts. I push through them as they surround me like too many people in a public space in a pre-pandemic world. I run below them as they dart down and then up again just out of reach.

These are the thoughts I like the most - these are the thoughts of hope.

Hope is Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -“

“Oh cool,” I think, unable to reign in my thoughts and keep them on topic, “she uses hyphens as punctuation too.”

Staying rooted

Dickenson’s poem about hope, about a thing with feathers, never mentions flying.

We associate hope and flying with being carefree.

Yet this bird stays perched.

“But Daniel,” you say, “reality is bumming me out - I don’t want to stay rooted in it.”

It’s true.

New Zealand is postponing their elections and clearing the streets of Auckland because of 58 new cases in the past few days.


The US had more than 41-thousand cases yesterday and more than 650 deaths.

But we have hope.

The president hopes it will just get better and go away.

It is important to live with hope perched firmly in your soul, continuing to sing.

But hope is not enough.


There’s a great routine in Richard Pryor’s Live at the Sunset Strip (NSFW) where he talks about Jim Brown coming over to talk to him while Pryor is addicted to freebasing.

Jim Brown repeatedly asks Pryor, “What you gonna do?”

That question cuts through everything.

But just before the clip ends, Pryor says that Brown had to go somewhere and his pipe called to him and that was that - he had forgotten what he needed to do and was back freebasing.

Hope is not enough.

Knowing what to do isn’t enough.

Having other people remind us what to do and helping us do it - that’s enough.

That’s the “it takes a village”.

Not just being nice

A friend and I were texting about Michelle Obama’s speech last night at the DNC.

We can’t just be nice while the other side is being mean. That isn’t enough.

As my friend wrote, “The ‘we are nicer’ thing has proven not to work.”

And yet, I don’t want to be otherwise.

It shouldn’t take us being mean to them because they are beyond cruel to people we care about.

I don’t know how to make someone who believes that every life is sacred to see how the policies of this administration aren’t in line with that.

Every life.

I don’t know how to make someone who loves to hunt or fish or spend time outdoors realize the dangers of climate change, not protecting our air and water, or giving over national land to mining.

I would think that would just be obvious to them.

But the way to convince them is not to be more like them.

This administration denied standard help for states ravaged by wild fires if those states hadn’t voted for them. They sent armed units to democratic cities.

The Obama administration didn’t say we’ll only provide health care for our supporters.

I think you just continue helping people and hope that they see the difference.

Unfortunately, we end up with Barack Obama’s car analogy. We get elected and work hard to dig it out of a ditch and then we give the keys back to them.

Unfortunately, being nicer isn’t enough.

The Plan

Michelle Obama has been criticized for saying “when they go low, we go high.”

She addressed that in her speech last night.

Why not go low?

She explains that, “when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”

Going high does not mean having hope, knowing what to do, or being nice.

Going high is hard work.

I think she said it perfectly:

“Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”

“And going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”

Even that may not be enough.

I hope that it is.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 21. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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