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Judge Not…

Life only makes sense in reverse. This most sage observation was once made by my older sister Rahel as we were talking about the way everything works out as it should. We think we know it all until we know nothing at all only to start over at zero and go through the next learning curve. We grow as we grow; life is nothing but an iterative process of gaining wisdom.

Two days ago, I had yet another “aha moment” and it finally dawned on me that what I have been doing for the past two years was the wrong approach. This epiphany came upon me as I was jogging on the treadmill while listening to music on YouTube. “Forever Young”, a song by Beyonce and Jay-Z, came on and I braced to watch yet another manifesto of glitz and glamour sans meaning and substance. I am not blind to the symbolism and the subtle message Beyonce and Jay-Z embrace, I’ve learned to avoid their brand because cultism doesn’t sit well with me.

To my great surprise, instead of veiled homages to an illuminated society, what came on was a very touching video of “hip-hop’s first couple” as they sang about their growth process while a screen  in the background projected their progression from dating to marriage to having their first child. This is the reason I love music, songs and melodies are universal languages that can be understood by all without regard to the dialects, borders, flags and the endless barriers that separate us from one another.

There is a reason that this video touched me so much. Last Sunday, I visited my mom and we talked about our memories of Ethiopia and the struggles we experienced adjusting to a life of hardship in America. My mom told me how she met my dad Fikremariam and she showed me pictures of my father wearing the Ethiopian Navy uniform, their wedding pictures as they tied the knot in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (the feature image above is my mom and dad getting married), pictures of her and dad when she gave birth to my sister Martha and the growing process they went through as they raised my siblings and me.

The last picture of my dad looking gaunt beset by lung cancer is the one that punched me in the gut. The image of him as a 21 year old in the Navy compared to the look of pain he wore during the last months of his life was a shock to my system. Instantly, upon seeing his face and looking into my dad’s eyes, my tear ducts opened up like Hoover dam and all the sorrows I suppressed came flooding out. Scars never heal, they just fade over time but can be torn open at any time.

The reason I was so moved by Beyonce and Jay-Z’s video is because their music mixed with the message of their life narratives reminded me of my mom and dad. At that exact moment, I realized that they were no different than my mom and dad. Sure Bay and Jay are worth hundreds of millions of dollars while my parents were working-class citizens struggling to keep up with the bills, but at the core both the Carters and the Fikremariams were and are imperfect human being trying their hardest to provide for their children.

I never understood how my faith defined all sins as being equal and that judgement should be left up to God. I realize it now. We come into this world perfectly innocent only to be corrupted by the influences of society and the temptations of the flesh. God knows I’ve made enough mistakes in my life, I can rationalize it all away saying that my transgressions were mostly self-inflicted and that I never went out of the way to hurt others, but I now realize that hurt is relative to what we know. What I do without intention can cause injury to others, what I consider to be harmful others could consider no big deal at all. What good does it accomplish to measure pains and to compete over who has it worse instead of working to mend the sources of our hurts?

In the paradigm of situational injustice that abounds in our time, it is counterproductive at best to define where compliance ends and where active evil begins. In truth, we all have good and evil in us; spending time pointing at the specks of this world only gets in the way of realizing the planks that protrude in our souls. The energy we invest in protesting malfeasance is energy we could otherwise invest in building up our communities and helping out others who are hurting—including ourselves.

This is not to say that we should ignore the inequalities of this world and just focus on self; going from one extreme to another is committing an infraction in reverse. However, this I’m sure of, if we don’t spend more time doing what is right and instead just complain about what is wrong, that is the surest way to nullify our voices, render ourselves irrelevant and ultimately let our souls become infested with cynicism. This is how the status quo remains fixed, we are conditioned to react in anger only to remain mired in stasis. Just this morning, I tweeted in exasperation as I reacted to what I heard on MSNBC, I spent the rest of the morning stewing in anger.

I’ve spent more than a decade and half, in between respites of self-pursuits and indulgences, trying to “fight for justice”. The more I fought, the more I lost. What started off with humility 11 years ago as I worked to get Obama elected morphed into arrogance; each time someone attacked me, I made them regret it. The gift I have to reach people and mold words to express narratives I used on countless occasions to put “trolls in their place”. After a bout of severe hardship, I realized that I was wrong to go after people who went after me. It profits us none to hurt people who try to hurt us because they are hurting.

I emerged from the dark hole of homelessness with this wisdom gained: be kind to the people and reserve the hammer for the powerful. This motto was one of the linchpins for my writing since the inception of this website. I finally gained wisdom, so I thought. No more punching down, I would punch up instead. This new approach earned the following and admiration of many, each time I saw a politician on TV lying through his teeth or a billionaire pretending to care about the vulnerable, I would bang out an article and do my level best to level these frauds. I became pretty good at speaking against the spoken lies of the media-politico complex; to be anti-establishment became my professional calling.

Now I realize that I learned the wrong lessons, my dance with indigence made me forgiving to those who suffer but vindictive towards those who prosper. Instead of highlighting people who wake up each day trying to do good for their community and strive to push humanity forward, I made it my mission to shine the light on “public serpents”. I managed to gain nearly 9,000 followers on Twitter, attracted a large audience on social media and made a name out of Ghion Journal, but what have I achieved other than triggering people with my words?

I usually go to a small cafe in my neighborhood to write my articles and in the process I shout them out on before I take the blowtorch out and sear the latest manufactured outrage. What if I spent more time writing about people like Haregewine Messert, who is the owner of Chez Hareg. She has the most amazing story; a first generation immigrant from Ethiopia, she started off seeking a career in nursing until her father told her to pursue her passions instead. I am frequently saddened that her cafe has many empty seats even though she has the most delicious food yet the Starbucks down the street is bustling with business. What if I spent more time trying to empower others instead of being activated by the latest breaking news?

In every town and city, there is someone like Haregewine Messert who works hard to provide for her family and gives back to community.

There are many reasons I exited journalism, it was not only because I took on a new position at Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy nor was my decision solely caused by the fact that independent journalists are being squeezed and censored out of the public square. It’s because I realize that the core issue gashing at our world and leading us down the path of destruction is not politics but one of spiritual brokenness. This does not mean I’m about to don a preacher’s outfit and proselytize to the world; far from that, I refuse to preach to others. However, I know now, after spending many years spinning my wheels, that the biggest challenge we will face in our lives is not exploring space nor colonizing distant planets, our challenge is seeking and finding peace within ourselves.

We are being splintered from our connectedness and conditioned to see ourselves as islands. Social media, the entertainment complex, politics, all these things and more are teaching us to be apart only for us to suffer alone. The only way we will finally start bending the arc of history towards justice and heal our planet is when we realize that we are all in this together. Rich, poor, black, white, believer, atheist, gay, straight, either we overcome these social constructs and see each other as fellow humans or else we will arrive at our final dissolution. #JudgeNot Click To Tweet

There is poetry in the fact that Beyonce and Jay-Z’s video “Forever Young” was the inspiration behind this article. Like my sister Rahel said, life makes sense in reverse. We can in fact be forever young when we stop judging each other and instead look for the best in each other. The good and the bad humans do are caused by an original hurt, instead of reverting to blowtorches and searing each other, please let us be compassionate and let kindness be our compass. As for the evils of this world, there is in fact judgement to be had, but that verdict I’m going to leave to a higher power than me. Going forward, I shall try my hardest to be love and let love be my sword and my shield. In the process, instead of complaining about the night, I shall let my actions be the light.

“Love one another. We don’t need more instructions; we need more examples.” ~ Bob Goff

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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal. He is currently the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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