An Update on My Forthcoming Book!

About a month-and-a-half ago, I posted that my new book would be coming soon. However, due to the ever-changing (and serious) nature of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the recent and many stops and starts in my part of the world, it has taken me a little longer to package the book (and particularly since I am publishing it independently). However, I am getting there, and I am confident that I will finish it very soon.

In the meantime, more about the book: the first part of it will be about my personal recovery from relationships, co-dependence, and partner abuse. The second part of the book will feature my (very womanist) writings about relationship over the years. Several friends (and enemies) have urged me to write about my experiences with loss and love. I have never been married, and I have no children, so for my entire adult life, I have perfected my capacity for dating. Sometimes, I call myself a “professional” when it comes to dating (this does not mean that I have mastered it, but I have developed my dating skills and a language for it because I have practiced dating for a couple of decades or more). Indeed, when I look back, some of my experiences with dating and intimate relationships make me laugh, but that is not always the case. For example, the end of my most recent intimate relationship was very painful, to say the least. However, I have learned to acknowledge and accept that pain is an opportunity to learn more about myself and about the loved ones in my life. And, although ending that relationship was very difficult, I am proud to say that I have used my pain to heal and to learn.

That said, I cannot talk about my recovery from intimate relationships without also talking about the ever present issue of addiction, which has been a factor in every significant intimate relationship that I have had with a man (i.e., even in college, my first “real” boyfriend was troubled with drinking alcohol excessively). By addiction (which I understand from Dr. Gabor Maté), I mean any behavior that a person uses to soothe their pain and run away from themselves and their feelings; and to the point that it has negative consequences upon their lives and others; and, to the extent that it is something that they cannot control or stop, despite the consequences or the harm that it causes them and others. One of my former relationships ended, for example, when my partner refused to talk about his compulsion to masturbate along with his frequent use of pornography, which he often lied about. For the record, I do not condemn masturbating (in fact, I encourage it as a healthy form of self-awareness and fulfillment), and I am not necessarily against pornography or the use of it; however, I do think that these are subjects that are very important to intimate partners.

When two people are together in a committed relationship, yet one refuses to talk about the important subjects that are affecting their being together, it has the potential to shut down the communication, and maybe even end the relationship. Likewise, I walked away from that relationship because, at the time, my partner refused to acknowledge how important it was for me to be in conversation about a behavior that he was repeatedly lying about and hiding from me. Finally, when it came down to whether we would try again, he refused, again, to discuss the matter. And, as badly as I wanted to reconcile with him, everything in my body was telling me to let it go, because he wanted me to maintain his silence and what I believed to be a lie, e.g., that there was nothing to worry about. On the contrary, my gut was repeatedly telling me that there was something to worry about.

Thankfully, with the help of friends, I listened to myself and I honored my own feelings. However, it was an excruciatingly hard decision to make, because I wanted our relationship to last. It hurt me deeply when I had to lose him and let go of future plans that included him. But, if I did not let him go, I knew that my own health and sanity would be at risk. And, when a partner requires me to keep silent about important matters, or matters that are significant to me, it is, frankly, a deal-breaker. I was not willing to suppress my feelings or my voice so that he could feel more comfortable with himself and his compulsive behaviors, so I had to make a very, very difficult decision, and one that I did not want to make at that. Letting go was painful, but I had to choose to honor myself and my feelings, and that remains true to this day. I have two feet, and I used them to walk away from what I believed to be an emotionally disturbing situation. Daily, I must choose to honor and respect myself, and if that means walking away from someone that I care deeply about, then so be it. As an adult, I am ultimately responsible for myself, and I made a decision, a long time ago, to live a happy and healthy life. The same is true today: I refuse to let anyone take away my voice and my happiness because they are unwilling, or perhaps unable, to name and address their own issues.

That being said, I think it is very, very important for black women to talk and write about what we have encountered in our relationships, be they heterosexual relationships or not. There are a few black women writers, in the world of feminists and womanists, who have used their prominence, positions, and platforms to talk about what they have learned, personally, from intimate relationships, but, generally, academics do not write about themselves or their personal lives (although, this is ironic since many feminists and womanists proudly say that “the personal is political”). I cannot tell you how important it was for me to read what black feminist, bell hooks, had to say about her own struggle with an abusive man in Wounds of Passion. Why are so many black women academics quiet on the subject of their own personal encounters with relationship? Especially when it comes to partner abuse? Well, in some cases I do not blame womanists for not wanting to write about the subject of relationship; and no black woman should feel obligated to share anything about her personal life. There is always a risk to talking about one’s self in public (especially when we might be perceived as victims or victimized). But, someone will always find something to criticize or to use against us when we write: always! I had to get past the fear of allowing someone’s criticism stop me from writing. Black women are quite capable of speaking up for ourselves; no one should speak for us, and, we deserve to be heard.

As for me, writing is something that I am compelled to do, and writing from my lived experience is a part of that (in personal and cultural terms). There are times when I hear whole phrases or paragraphs in my head; they come to me out of no where (and often when I am busy doing something else). I take this as a gift, and I do not take it for granted. I also know that when we are able to talk about our painful experiences, we heal. I once heard Dr. Joy DeGruy say, “It is our secrets that make us sick.” This too is a fact, as we now are learning more about the impact of childhood abuse and trauma upon our lives and the lives of our loved ones. All of us experience difficulty and pain in our intimate relationships; it is a part of loving another human being besides ourselves. Being in an abusive relationship is another story. No one is required to accept abuse, and, I refuse to knowingly be involved with an abusive man. I regret to say that many of the adult men that I have known intimately have been emotionally abusive. Of course, they would not say that about themselves, and I do not expect them to admit it just as I do not expect a racist to admit that he is, in fact, a racist. Yet, whether they admit it or not, we live ideologically, and in fact, in an overwhelmingly patriarchal (and racist) world that enables (and rewards) men, of every hue, color, and economic class to be abusive (and racist, and sexist, and heterosexist…you get my drift). OF COURSE, THEY WILL DENY IT!!! Our world is full of dishonest people, and, unfortunately, we know some of them, personally. But their denial will not stop those of us who are willing to be honest and courageous enough to tell the truth about ourselves and the emotional abuse we have endured. When I say emotional abuse, I am referring to those (usually men) who consciously and subconsciously hurt others (usually women and children) with actions and behaviors that negate and discard their emotions with psychological (lying, withholding, ghosting, etc.) and physically violent behaviors. We can label it narcissism, borderline, bipolar, antisocial, or whatever: abusive behavior is abusive behavior!

It is important to understand that almost always, emotional or psychological abuse is the precursor to physical abuse. In other words, emotional abuse is not to be taken lightly or to be played with. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at some of the comments on certain YouTube “channels” where black men, who claim to “love” black people and black culture openly spew hate for black women (a/k/a “misogyny”) in particular; and, their followers (predominantly black men) proudly post and brag about their sexual exploits and conquests. There, in plain view, you can see how the emotional abuse of women is repeatedly and aggressively articulated, re-enforced and supported by men who often simultaneously confess that they have been troubled by abusive pasts and traumas (you will also find this behavior articulated online by women who admit to having similar histories of abuse and childhood trauma). In addition, many who are doing this claim to be believers or followers of some religious or spiritual sect, yet they deliberately set out to cause harm to others and to themselves, which makes them such hypocrites of the beliefs they claim to hold. It is our actions that affirm our beliefs, not our words. It is sad to me that the same people who say they believe in a loving, forgiving god, commit acts of hate and greed dang near every day. That is truly a shame, and one of the reasons why I am an atheist: I do not follow or respect hypocrites, especially when they are deliberately harming others with their speech or their actions.

While it is true that those who do this were not responsible for the abuse that they endured from others, I believe they have a responsibility to address their issues and heal, because, if not, they are bound to harm and hurt others with painfully toxic behaviors that are associated with their previous abuse. And, the toxicity of their behaviors rarely have anything to do with the present moment. Whether on social media, or in person, if you are willing to stand back and listen mindfully to abusive people in your life, which is not an easy thing to do, you will see that their words and actions are full of suffering, and they will cause you to suffer…if you let them. Abuse is a cyclical and generational phenomenon (not a curse!). Thus, the cycle of abuse will be repeated, passed down from fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, and on to grandchildren and more, until it is broken by those who courageously and consciously refuse to continue in the abusive cycle.

I have also learned that many adult men (and women) who abuse others do it subconsciously. In other words, it is often something that they cannot help, and, more than likely, because they too were the victims of abuse. On the other hand, many men are abusive due to the passing down of malignant patriarchal thinking (although adult women can and will exercise malignant patriarchal thinking and behavior that they have learned from others in their lives – yet, statistically, men are most often the abusers in domestic partnerships). Unfortunately, everyone has felt the sting of malignant patriarchy, which is frequently accompanied by abusive actions (verbal, emotional, and physical); it affects us all in disastrous ways.

In this new book, I define patriarchy (similar to bell hooks) and I talk at length about its connection to co-dependence, which is also a learned and compulsive behavior. I also have a section on how I managed to end an abusive relationship. This section was the hardest for me to write, because like many, it was hard for me to admit that I had been the victim of emotional abuse. Maybe you can relate? Please know, that if you are being abused IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Your abuser is at fault. Those who survive abuse and who are willing to start talking about it, aloud, disempower their abuse. I now realize that if we do not give voice to it, naming it for what it is, we are going to be just as sick as those who attempt to silence and abuse us. If you want your relationship to get better, or if you want (or need) to end an intimate relationship, or if you want there to be a change in any kind of way, somebody will have to start speaking up; somebody will have to be willing to break through the silences, the falsehoods, and, yes, the denial. Why not let that somebody be you? Yes, it will be hard; it will be painful, but you will begin to heal if you talk about it, even if just to a trusted friend. Yes, it will take time (a lot of time!); it will require discipline and saying capital N-O to previous patterns that enabled the abuse and your abuser; you will have to work on yourself so that you can break out of the patterns that held you in the cycle of abuse. You may have to call upon the help of a therapist or engage in some kind of specialized treatment, but this is healthy (your abuser is not healthy if he is not seeking or willing to seek the help that he desperately needs to stop abusing you and himself). Furthermore, staying in an abusive relationship is definitely not healthy: the stress (alone) can kill you. If you are in an abusive relationship, save yourself, but, please know that liberating yourself from your abuser will not be easy, and it probably will not happen overnight. Educate yourself on abuse and how to safely and strategically walk away from it. It does not mean you have to end communication or the relationship with your partner, but it is important that you create the boundaries and the distance you need to be safe, healthy, and happy. I can tell you from experience that if you are courageous, and if you value yourself by taking good care of yourself, you will succeed. Be patient with the process. You can do it, and you are worth the work!

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Be Who You Are, Not What You Do

The things that I do for a living do not make me who I am. I work, primarily, so that I have money to pay my bills. On the one hand, my work is – to some degree – a reflection of who I am and what I value in life. On the other hand, and this is something that I believe we have all learned during the Coronavirus pandemic, is that work (as in a job) is temporal. It is time- sensitive and often limited by the environment in which we live, whether we understand that or not.

I know people who define themselves by the work that they do (or for more superficial reasons such as the benefits of work, i.e., money, prestige, power, material possessions). But what happens when that work dries up or goes away? Who would they be if their day-to-day work duties came to an end through no fault of their own, or through some fault of their own? It is good to take pride in our work, but it is even more important that we learn to define and express ourselves by what is within us, as opposed to what is outside or around us. And, we must know that who we are is not contingent upon what we do for a living, rather who we are is contingent on the beings that we are deep down inside.

There are people who I know in life who define themselves by the work that they do day-to-day on “the job.” Often, those very same people are workaholics, which is, as I have been told, one of the most acceptable yet destructive addictions that a person can have. Because, without that work, they feel meaningless, worthless, and very lost (in a world of so many possibilities). These very same people, who display so much pride and ego about their jobs may easily feel like nothing if and when their jobs come to a complete halt (and so do the things that that work provided). And, this should tell us something about their character, huh? Perhaps they lack the ability (or the courage) to reinvent themselves when life calls on them to create new ways of being and doing; and, unfortunately, that work and those things are what they use to define themselves. It does not have to be that way. 

In summary, who we are is connected to our character, which is an intangible thing and something that we develop over time, ever since the day that we came into this world. Are you a lover of trees or nature; are you a friend to the broken-hearted or the homeless; are you a fighter for peace and justice, or a natural-born leader? Are you a person who genuinely wants the good or advancement of others? Or, are you only concerned about yourself and your earthly possessions? Do you misuse and abuse others? Is it easier for you to hate than to love? Of course, I know people who do not know who they are; or, they pretend that they are someone who they are not, usually to (cowardly) get what they want. These people do a lot of damage to themselves and to others. Nevertheless, our character will always tell us (and others) who we are: good, bad, or in-between. And, I do know some people who genuinely know who they are. They are in touch with their own sense of self, which can exist on its own, apart from work, others, and the environments in which we live. Our character comes out in word, and most of all, in deed. Yes, the work that we do on a day-to-day basis may be a reflection of our character, or maybe it is not. It all depends on how and why that work is needed. Perhaps the work that we do today for ourselves simply sets the stage for what is to come later, or maybe the work we do today will last for a lifetime. Only you can be the judge and the jury for the place or value that work will take in your life. But, in times of uncertainty, it is always important to remember to be who you are, not what you do.

©2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Red Flag

If a man intentionally harms a woman that he has claimed to love for no other reason than to punish her, hurt her, or make her suffer for something that he did to compromise their relationship or being together, and he is a father, and he has granddaughters and grandsons, then you must know that something has probably gone horribly wrong in his life.

© 2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Emotional Abuse: Some Characteristics

What is emotional abuse? Over the years, I have witnessed abuse first-hand, and I have listened carefully to the accounts of others who have been victimized by abusive partners or family members. Here is a working list of some the characteristics that I have experienced or heard about in conversation:

Is emotionally withdrawn, as in makes the frequent use of “the silent treatment” to willfully negate and hurt your feelings; does not ask about your day or your thoughts at all; uses unnecessary scowling and pouting to scare or shame you; displays grandiose or exaggerated anger over minor subjects, conversations, or disagreements; blows things constantly out of proportion; intentionally fails to be present when help or concern is needed; questions your every move, but freaks out if you question them about dang near anything; has an unreasonable and perhaps hateful disposition towards your feelings or thoughts; distorts or negates reality; falsely blames you for the awful things they do to you; consistently hides behind material possessions and uses those things to give themselves a sense of self-worth; uses material possessions to gain attention, praise, or companionship; intentionally ignores your calls to the extent that it produces anxiety and worry (uses the phone as a weapon); gloats easily; is overly selfish, narcissistic, or has to always be right or the center of attention; dominates conversations (especially with uninformed opinions or facts); shows excessive criticism or rages when you’ve made a genuine, unintentional mistake; refuses to grow up emotionally; expects life to be mostly fun and games, e.g., does not handle normal stress or life’s challenges very well; maintains rigid allegiance to social norms or personal beliefs that reinforce inequality or power imbalances; demands unrealistic expectations of you or your role without previous agreement or arrangement (maybe “in return” for something that they allegedly “gave” you without requesting repayment); has the expectation that you will do for them what they could or should be able to do for themselves; refuses to forgive you when they expect forgiveness or understanding from you always; contacts you by text when they know they have done something to hurt you, but primarily to see if they still have access to you; creates an environment for physical or sexual encounters, but rarely makes the time or space for the development of emotional intelligence or intimacy; dismisses or discourages your innermost thoughts and feelings (and they may actually mock the way you feel); habitually and blatantly denies reality; maliciously or intentionally refuses to be there for you when you are genuinely in need (not just when it is convenient); hurls hateful and hurtful putdowns on you for no apparent reason; bashes your hopes and dreams; accuses you of doing the abusive and awful things that they do; breaks promises and expectations regularly, and as a means to control or punish you; tells many and unnecessary lies; throws temper tantrums when things don’t go their way (i.e., walking out on you or literally throwing you out); makes it seem like you are not worthy of their love, when really it is the other way around; they yell, a lot; they often wake up or come home from work noticeably pissed off making you feel as if whatever is wrong is your fault; blames you for everything that is going wrong; repeatedly makes you fearful or walk on eggshells just to be around them.

In summary, people who are emotionally abusive can be very terrifying, and they lack the ability to attract and maintain good, healthy relationships.

Basically, if someone “ghosts” you or shows you that they don’t value you or want you in their life, GET OUT! LEAVE! Distance yourself from them NOW!

They have done you a solid (as in a favor), and you are not obligated to love them any longer or say goodbye.

Begin to realize that they have already walked out on you, and they did not attempt to say goodbye or even worry about how abandoning you would make you feel. They failed to be there for you! They intentionally endeavored to hurt you.

Consequently, it is not wrong or unjustified to get away from them when they have done their darndest to:

Use you;

Deceive you;

Steal from you;

Scare you;

Embarrass you;

Discard you;

Belittle you;

Terrify you;

Disrespect you; or

HURT YOU IN ANY WAY.

These people are NOT your friends. They DO NOT LOVE YOU, and perhaps they do not truly love themselves.

Unfortunately, the one you love is probably full of hate and rage that have nothing to do with you.

It is NOT YOUR FAULT that they are this abusive, destructive, and so apparently broken; thus, “fixing them” or “saving them” is not your responsibility. It is not your job to put them back together. This, they must do for themselves!

Abuse of any kind is totally unacceptable.

So, step back, draw your line in the sand. Do not be afraid to say capital N-O, and set your boundaries. Or, step completely away if you must.

Finally, learn from the experience, and get on with your marvelous, beautiful life!

© 2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When You Are Loved

You will know when someone loves you and wants you in their life

When they make themselves present and available to you,

When they tell you about their day and how it went, but they also want to hear about you and your feelings;

They will want to be there for you, emotionally

Because the power of love makes room for reciprocity.

Most of all, when you are loved, they will show you that they care about you in word and in deed.

When you are loved, you will be a priority:

The first thing in the morning, and the last on their mind at night.

You will be to them like a light at the end of a dark tunnel,

Like an oasis in the middle of the desert or a dry place.

And, when you are loved, it will be hard to go for a day without you.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Please Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

Please don’t tell me you love me when you could care less about my feelings, my work, my life, my day, and my accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me and you want to be with me, but you really don’t. That’s just what you say because you think I want to hear it,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you always run and hide behind your phone and all your other material possessions, especially when you know you have disappointed or hurt me,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you have rejected and scared away dang near every well-intentioned woman who has come into your life with deception and abuse,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are more than willing to lie to get what you want or need (even when you don’t have to), and even if you know your lies will hurt others,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you prostitute yourself daily with people that you say do not care about you, yet they are the ones you run to for attention and affection,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you constantly abandon yourself and the ones you claim to love (yet you cling to the ones, and the habits, you despise),

Please don’t tell me you love me when you destroy the love that we have made with out-of-control drinking and anger that belong to a past that continues to define and control you,

Please don’t tell me that you love me when the only things that matter to you are your feelings, your work, your life, your day and your accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you know that you are not the person that you say you are,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are not willing to be honest and ask for the help that you know you desperately need, and for the help that will potentially bring you to what you need and want,

Please don’t tell me you love me until you can muster the strength and the courage to forgive and ultimately love yourself,

And please don’t tell me you love me until you know how to love and value yourself.

©2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When Someone Breaks Your Trust

When someone willfully breaks or damages the trust that you once had in them,

It is hard to believe in that person again.

When their actions and words (or perhaps their inactions) are no longer reliable or acceptable,

The connection you once had with them has been damaged, and it may be gone, for good.

When someone breaks your trust, there is no person or thing: not sex, earthquakes, tornadoes, alcohol, drugs, a material thing (like a new house, car, apartment, money), or the threat of impending death that has the power to bring it back.

Yes, a temporary remedy may stop or numb the pain that you feel when what you valued, or made you feel safe is broken, absent, or no longer there.

But trust is an abstract thing; it is something that you give to the ones you love.

It is not readily available, or growing on trees for anyone to gain at will.

Therefore, when the trust you have with someone is broken, or taken for granted, it is quite possible that you will never trust that person again. Unfortunately, sometimes people do burn their bridges.

But, if not, what will mend a broken trust?

For me, it takes many steps, and thus many thoughtful acts of penance, for a person to regain my trust.

The first is to “fess up,” to be honest, and to break through layers of shame and denial.

However, a person who has repeatedly repressed or denied the truth will probably not sustain honest behavior,

And definitely not when being dishonest has been their modus operandi.

And, if almost everyone around them is being dishonest; or, if their environment enables them – and others – to pretend that everything is “all good,”

At best, there will be many empty and broken promises.

They will often repeat the words “I’m sorry”, and probably more times than you care to remember.

Perhaps, they will also say that they intend to change, but their actions will make them contradict themselves, a lot.

Does this make the dishonest people that you love “bad” for you?

Should you write them off, throw them away, and try to forget about them?

Only you know the answer to that question.

Unfortunately, I have also learned that a dishonest person cannot be trusted until they are willing to be honest with themselves about who they are and about what they have done to discredit themselves and damage their own trustworthiness.

When someone breaks your trust, there’s really nothing you need to do until the one who has broken it is willing to admit their mistakes, and their problems. And that may never happen. Some people are too proud to admit that they have problems, and perfectionism is one of those problems.

Nevertheless, that is what it takes for me to begin the trust building process, but, again, I don’t believe that many people have this kind of fortitude.

In this world, it is much too easy to hide from the truth and numb the pain we have caused with all kinds of fixes and elixirs.

So, as badly as I might want to trust again, it is not my responsibility to make anyone an honest person, and especially not when the world that we are living in rewards thieves, cowards and liars, but it punishes (and sometimes it assassinates) the truth-tellers.

It pains me to say (and to know) that the world is full of those who have mastered the art of lying, manipulating, and behaving badly to get the results that they want. Honest people are in the minority.

Being dishonest is a dominant way of relating to others and to the Earth; and, a good majority believes that it is acceptable and normal to act this way. Telling lies and hiding from the truth of who they are is the best that they can do; the ones who do this do not know how to be honest, loving, trustworthy people. And, as a result, they cause suffering in their own lives and those around them.

Therefore, when someone breaks your trust, and they want to get it back, perhaps then you must make a decision that will demonstrate how, or whether, you truly understand the measure of your own worth.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

A Cautionary Note to Self on Surviving Abuse

Careful, that you don’t become just like those who failed you with hate, anger, and abuse.

You deserve a life that is truly free from their madness and confusion.

Just getting away from them is not enough.

Letting them go and surviving the trauma is also refusing to carry your abuser’s self-destructive thoughts and ways around inside of you.

© 2018 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

On the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: From an Atheist

On occasions, I am asked if I would date a believer, or a person who believes in a god or supernatural being, such as a Supreme Being. Being an atheist, there was a time that I said unequivocally no to that question. But, about two years ago I began to soften my response. For example, in 2012, in an NPR interview with Jamila Bey, I said openly that I was “flexible.”

Recently, I met someone who is a believer, and we connected. Although he is not what I would call a religious enthusiast or fanatic, at times he talks about his god and his faith with subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to inform me that his god is real. Because of my feelings for him, I overlook it, and there are times when I engage him gently with questions about his religious thoughts and philosophies. I am willing to be in this kind of critical engagement with him because 1) I understand his actions; I once did the same kind of thing – used every opportunity to “witness” or share my faith (often when it was not requested) with others; and 2) because it is another way for me to get to know him and the basis for his everyday actions or behaviors in life. And, I have yet to encounter a Christian who does not feel compelled to be vocal about his or her faith. It goes with the territory.

So, what did it for me? How could I allow myself to be in an intimate relationship with a man who believes in something that I don’t? On what grounds is it conscionable that I get along or share myself with a man who does not share the same ideas or philosophies that I hold? These are questions that I am contemplating at length on the 29th anniversary of the Martin Luther Kr., Jr. national holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who challenged the white racist ideology or philosophies of his time. By the 1950s and 60s, those white racist philosophies and socio-political expressions of whiteness were incorporated into federal, local and state policies and institutions, such as urban renewal, which was a federal housing policy that had a disparate impact upon former urban Negro communities, and at a time when urban blacks were fighting institutional oppression at an alarming rate. Throughout my lifetime, I have come to understand Dr. King as a man who stood against social division and exclusion on political and personal grounds. I have also come to know him as a man who believed wholeheartedly in achieving a peaceful coexistence despite everyday unjust behaviors and inhumane practices, here in the U.S. and beyond.

With regard to my political and personal commitments, I have come to realize that I do not want to section myself and my life off to only those who think or behave like me. I want to meet and know others whose lives and philosophies are different from mine and without the compulsion or the need to willfully mock or dismantle their thinking or beliefs, just because they are different from mine. On the other hand, there will be times when I will be openly critical of ideas or philosophies (including religious ones) that are expressed in public that I reject or disagree with; that is something Martin Luther King Jr. did with the power of the spoken word, and he did it mainly from the pulpit, as an American preacher. Likewise, I am fundamentally empowered by the freedom of speech as we know it in a Western way. And, it is that freedom of speech that I rely on, as an atheist, to say publicly that I do NOT believe in gods of any kind. I have that right, even though the majority may respond to that statement or position with hate, rejection or discrimination.

In addition, what I have come to learn is that I am not responsible for the thinking or the belief of others, which, I think, is one reason that I can spend my personal time and person with a man who believes in a supernatural god or ideas. I am not his keeper. I am not responsible for what happens to him when he dies or really at any time for that matter. I do not choose an intimate partner on the basis of what he believes, but on the content of his character. In other words, my being with a man is essentially not predicated on where he lives, or how much money he makes, or how supportive he is of my thinking or behavior. My decision to be intimately involved with a potential partner is not determined by whether or not he believes in a god or whether he shares my worldview. Rather, my being with a man, or being with any person for that matter to accomplish any goal, is rooted in a healthy engagement of ideas and critical thinking. At the end of the day, I want to know who a man is overall. I want to know if he is committed to doing good; to being the best person he can be; I want to know if he is willing to use his talents and skills to help and empower others; and, is he a peaceful, loving person, even when his ideas are not supported or he does not get what he wants.

Indeed, this is not the kind of behavior that I have seen from many atheists or theists who use their positions and philosophies like weapons to discredit those who don’t ascribe to their ideas or theories of reality. These are extreme and unjustifiable attitudes that I cannot support, because the truth of the matter is that others may not choose to walk in the paths that I have taken. We each have our own paths to attend to. When I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I don’t worry about whether he was a Christian believer or not. I respect and honor him because he was a great human being who courageously endeavored to bring about fairness and equality, and not exclusively for his own clan or Christian friends. Of course, I know that there will always be those who choose to remain divided over philosophies and ideas, but I have lived long enough to know that there is no future in divisiveness, and fortunately I know that there are those who have found the wherewithal to accept those who are different or divergent in thought, word and deed without resorting to contempt, hate and violence, but they are also not willing to let injustice and hatred go unconfronted. This kind of boldness and willingness to speak compassionately and thoughtfully, I think, is a significant part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is, in my humble, atheist opinion, one of the attributes that made him one of the greatest human beings who ever lived on the face of the Earth.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.