Rising Above the Modern-Day Witch Hunt with Moral Courage

When I was in third grade, I announced to my mom a new idea for a Halloween costume: “I want to be THE NIGHT.”
She paused and questioned: “Like a knight who fights?”

“NO,” I asserted. “THE NIGHT. That shines.”

Relieved, I imagine, that her flower child did not want to bear a sword and shield, we set to work on making the costume. She sewed glow-in-the-dark star, moon, and planet stickers on a cape and helped me make the staff and headband pictured.

Meanwhile, I told my teacher and my class that for the parade at school I was going to dress up as “the night”… but I forgot to clarify as I had with my mom that I would be the night that shines, not the knight that fights.

So when I showed up to the parade, fully costumed, my teacher grew frustrated with me. Even just the smallest deviation caused this authority figure such angst. She perceived me to have been lying and twisting my words, but the truth of the matter was, she hadn’t considered that “knight” sounds just like “night.” Maybe she felt foolish.

Many of my classmates picked up on the disapproving energy of the teacher and without understanding why or what was happening, they used that as an excuse to vent their enmity and perhaps, in their own desire to rebel, aligned with an authority figure towards me, a scapegoat.

Their anger made me wonder if they had it in them to burn me as their little witch sacrifice. From my teacher’s perspective, I had betrayed their trust. I had broken the rules. I had sullied a ritual as simple, yet precious, as a properly planned Halloween parade.

The moment passed. I marched in the parade. Later that night, I performed, costumed, at a dance class in the neighboring town. The astral stickers glowed in the dark and away from my schoolmates, I felt relieved that I could let myself go. I could finally dance and be free.

I just wanted to shine my light without being shunned.

Reflecting on my childhood, I am grateful to have grown up in a family of artists. It was just my parents (potters/painters) and me (a budding writer/musician/dancer) in our home and in our studio where we guarded the gem of creative freedom. We embraced life as an art and with that, savored independent investigations of truth. So yeah, I was the weird kid. I stood up to bullies for myself and for others. I had my half-sister Heather, several close friends who I was fiercely loyal to, and a growing number of adult family friends who I lovingly called “aunt” and “uncle.”

Sometimes I’m not sure everyone in my life understands what it’s like to be an outcast. The experience can be as subtle as silent letters. And it can be as obviously horrific and wrong as my cousin in Iran being imprisoned for being a believer in the Baha’i Faith during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Champions of the Human Spirit from the East and the West

Here in the United States, my family is small in number. But we reach far and wide in strength and resilience. My mother and father are champions of the human spirit. They are bright lights in what can seem like a dim, dark world. I strive to be a light too—growing beyond the orthodoxy of our time, as a writer who calls for unity in a time of stark division and is publicly leaving the left for liberty.

I used to think that the bullying in my childhood was a result of my mom being a foreigner, but honestly, I think it had more to do with the discomfort that we caused by questioning the status quo.

My mom would constantly point to my high school and fervently say of our small town: “Pen Argyl is a microcosm of the world!”

I refused this wisdom for too long. She was right.

Maybe for some of you, if you have big families, if you have made friends more easily, and if you don’t have the whispering in your ear of how lucky you are to be born in the Western World, then the things I say sound foreign. I can’t help but ask questions. I can’t help but wonder whether every American wants to live in a free society, and I can’t help but analyze the tension between justice and freedom. My interest in the human condition has triggered people before. This isn’t the first time I have felt othered and misunderstood, and I anticipate it won’t be the last. After all, it is the human condition to separate ourselves from what we don’t understand out of fear. It’s natural.

Having grown up hearing stories of dissidents, poets, and musicians being silenced, imprisoned, and tortured in my mom’s motherland, my inner Persian lion came out last summer when California rioters chanted “Death to America.” That chant triggered the revolution that brought my mom to this country in 1979. And when chanted in America, it makes a different impact.

The way I see it, Iran’s “Death to America” roared an inner purge of western meddling… and America’s “Death to America” could be the prelude to an even more complex, collective ego death. If we are to release the self and come together as a collective, I will continue to caution that “Death to America” could mean rebirth for some and catastrophic destruction for others. Chanting it invokes the reaction of each participant and viewer on this already thorny road. And for those who aren’t ready for this country to die and be reborn, what does it mean for our fellow people? Death to the naysayers?

No. We can do better, I hope. The tyranny of our time is an urgent problem that can be faced with sensitivity. The pattern of scapegoating, persecuting, and punishing, without so much as a shred of forgiveness or mercy, overwhelms and oppresses. And only recently, do I feel it has been done justice by the mainstream media in The Atlantic‘s “The New Puritans,” Newsweek‘s “Stop Calling Me ‘White’ For Having the Wrong Opinions” and Washington Post‘s “Stop Harassing the Unvaccinated.”

As a small part of the media myself, I will own my part and say that we have a long way to go in cooling the War on Words— on silent letters, on nuance, and on meaning.

My heart breaks open for all this, but I will not let it break the steadfastness of my spirit. We must be careful not to lose our humanity while fighting for humanity itself.

“It is all just a big love contest, and I never lose.” —Hafiz

Every person is worthy of respect. Somehow we have reached a point where it seems that is a revolutionary thing to say. This pandemic has been hard on the collective. It weighs heavily. And I think it can be navigated with a little more grace if we reminded ourselves more often that everyone is coming from a place of pain and not having their needs met. Each of us is a perfectly imperfect human with the cry of an inner child.

Over this past year, I have been communicating with my inner child and staring up at the stars I once wore. She wants to shine her light without being shunned. She wants to be held. So I have tried to reach out and share my concerns with complete strangers who have become my friends and with friends who have become strangers.

The ideas I’m exploring have been called “misguided,” “repugnant,” and “pure garbage.”

And yet I still write with love. Like a fool.

Because the ideas that champion the human spirit, which seek to unite whenever possible and shine light wholly on division, are also deemed “brave,” “hopeful,” and “heroic.”

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” —Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Whether I’m alone or partnered, I want to always be a fool in love and light. That is the core of the human spirit. We need love. Love is wide. Love is tough. Love is flowing. We all just want to belong, to dance freely to the beat of our own drums and join the larger drum circle of the collective when we’re ready.

The Nature of Abuse and Fanaticism

So why, when given the opportunity to turn toward love, are we still taught to fear the witches and not those who burn them alive? Because fanaticism lives on, and fear reigns over those who will it. Because coercion and control power the cycle of abuse plaguing our world. Because none of us are immune to the human condition.

As long as there is an agenda, as long as one person or group believes they know best and they aren’t willing to humanize someone who is choosing differently than they do, there will be no collective union.

The elusive “collective” is reflected in the microcosms of the world—you, me. The wisdom is already within each and every one of us, and we can choose to listen to it. Reflecting on the societal cycle of abuse, I’ve written a lot about the emotional abuse I endured in my marriage, and in my healing, have taken responsibility for the role I played so that I can extend that awareness outwards. The divorce three years ago was painful and complicated. Empathy wore thin. Even so, I’m grateful that we could still find moments of communicating tenderness and showing compassion for the situation we were grappling with. We could at least acknowledge the reality that we were grappling with a predicament that would shift each of our lives forever.

When my ex-husband and I were in couple’s counseling, there seemed to be a lot of conditions put on love. Suggestions grew to near-ultimatums for what one should do with their time, their body, and their mind. Conversations around each other’s love languages made it clear that while we still felt a certain tenderness for each other, my language was foreign to his and vice-versa.

Today, I’m saddened that many of my fellow people seem to be putting conditions on love. There are societally coerced conditions for what someone deserves to receive care and respect. The pandemic is bringing up persecution, and the corrupted power of persecution is clinging to this planet for its life. If there’s no acknowledgment of the power imbalances in our society, in our relationships, within our own individual selves, real unity will continue to elude us.

While being told from the left and the right, the middle and the outskirts, to “keep faith,” I struggle to find my words around the modern-day witch hunt and the current pandemic without speaking of Spirit. Some believe in a human spirit, whether it be a deeply religious or spiritual belief, or the belief in a single, symbolic flame that burns within each of us, for one another. I believe the human spirit transcends and lives on past the body, and I believe in God.

“The Science” is not God. So when someone asks me, “Do you believe in science?”, I’m struck by this question as if one part of science is worthy of religious worship. Ironically, I feel transported back to my small town where, engulfed in a zealot mentality, devout Christians would ask me: “Are you a believer?”

And now, the question of one’s belief in a dominating sect of science is sometimes posed by someone who has put their faith in a doctor, who might be in the pockets of politicians as much as, if not more than, in God. And that question often comes with ridicule, a certain mockery of the privacy between the patient and the physician of their choosing.

Science as a whole is a worthy tool for exploration, to use, not to worship. Love is real. Free will is real. Nuance is real. Our common humanity, through a healthy sense of individualism, is real.

Albert Einstein said that “Future medicine will be the medicine of frequencies,” a concept which is already being explored as a possible avenue for killing the coronavirus. Presently, the frequency of the loudest voices is very low, and very far from the high frequency of love. The loudest of vaccinated Americans and unvaccinated Americans insist on ridiculing one another and perpetuating a cycle of control. This part of the whole story spins the dangerous, fear-driven illusion that we are divided. We are not.

Not all vaccinated people are self-righteous jerks. Not all unvaccinated people are self-righteous jerks. None are saints either. Over this past year and a half, I have marched with self-proclaimed socialists and I have sat with proud libertarians. Every person among them is only human.

My Body, My Choice; My Mind, My Voice

Regarding the new vaccines, there are choices to be made. An individual is free to get one shot, two shots, and boosters. An individual is also free to not get a shot. All these choices can have consequences. In navigating this, you are free to set certain boundaries. But if you choose to demonize your fellow human for thinking differently and choosing differently, and assert a moral duty to actively marginalize and mock them, you risk losing me as a friend and, more significantly, you risk losing yourself to the shadow. You risk succumbing to the illusion of separation—to the colonization of the mind, body, and spirit.

There are people in my life who I have already forgiven, but I don’t want to reconcile with them right now. Compassion and boundaries do not have to be mutually exclusive. The Puritans of our time claim to own the virtue of compassion. Compassion is not owned, it is not controlled. It is available to everyone if they so choose.

But compassion is not enough. Respect is needed, freedom is needed, and courage is essential to rise above the modern-day witch hunt.

“I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.” —Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place

We are a weary people. It’s an understatement to say that people are unhappy. The environment of distrust is stifling. As of February 2021, “62% of Americans say they have opinions they’re afraid to share. 80% of Americans—young; old; rich; poor; conservative; liberal; white; minorites—all hate the current atmosphere of hypersensitivity.”

As the ability to speak one’s conscience in the public square is squashed by the new McCarthyism, there is an avoidance of the spiritual realm and a clinging to the material realm. People feel unheard, yes, but it goes deeper. More than human bodies are at stake—the human mind and the human spirit matter too. A common cry is arising from women across the aisle: My body, my choice. My mind, my voice.

Bear in mind the persecuted people of history: It was not witches who were burned, drowned, or hung. It was women. It was women who were seen as too outspoken, too quiet, too different, too connected to their sexuality, to nature, with too much red in their hair. Even if they danced or sang, they were at risk of being murdered. Sisters turned on each other. Babies were lost. Children were tortured. Women were put in deep holes in the ground. They were persecuted by both water and fire.

“Were it not for tests, genuine gold could not be distinguished from the counterfeit. Were it not for tests, the courageous could not be known from the coward.” —Abdu’l-Baha

What stops a fellow human from stepping up and defending the persecuted? And what might motivate someone to embark on a hero’s journey?

Becoming a Contemporary Hero

A contemporary hero I admire is writer Charles Eisenstein. His ancestors on his father’s side are Russian and Polish Jews. His Russian relatives escaped, just barely, from the pogroms of the late Czarist era. His grandpa survived because the family’s landlord bravely hid him in a haystack from a mob of raging, violent villagers. His Polish relatives didn’t escape at all; they died in a Warsaw ghetto.

“Family stories of persecution and hunger made a strong impression on me growing up,” he writes. “It is, in part, my lineage that sensitizes me to present-day dehumanization of all kinds, whether based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical capacity, or political, medical, or religious beliefs.”

Pondering the witch hunt mentality still prevalent in the human consciousness today, he lifts his message higher in Mob Morality and the Unvaxxed: “We would like to think that modern societies like ours have outgrown barbaric customs like human sacrifice. Sure, we still engage in scapegoating and figuratively sacrifice people on the altar of public opinion, but we don’t actually kill people in hopes of placating the gods and restoring order. Or do we?”

Through many examples, Eisenstein suggests we still do. The desires to shun, scapegoat, and divide do more to destroy, than to protect our planet and to co-create a better Earth. Each of us seeks belonging and, I believe, every one of us deserves to feel seen and heard. When have you ever felt truly heard? I urge you to think of a time when you felt neither here nor there, neither right nor wrong. Consider a moment in your life when perhaps one part of you felt empowered, while another felt erased. Are there parts of yourself, memories or passions, that you might feel the need to censor depending on the audience? When have you felt oppressed or suppressed? Silenced? Lonely? Traumatized? Wounded? Healed? Loved? This is the human experience.

Let us set an intention to kindle some warmth in our hearts for one another and open up a little more to the healing power of storytelling. The grief is so wide. The love is so wide. We are being reborn in between. So I call upon you to find your shadow, the darkest part of yourself, and explore it with tenderness. The new nation could be born by the forlorn light that could come from within. The new nation is coming externally, too, through mindful spending. It is coming through active listening. It is coming from asking questions. It is coming through a collective, sustained protest of a flawed system.

This is a massively challenging time, but it is truly a marvel to witness and participate in the fight for the human body, mind, and spirit.

I sense some, perhaps all, of us will look back on this time in history and perceive our undertakings to be incredibly precious. The fight brings up anger and it can also be balanced within the self to be a source of joy, awe, and hope.

“There is another way and a better future,” as Charles Eisenstein envisions. “This future reaches into the present and the past to show itself any time that vengeance gives way to forgiveness, enmity to reconciliation, blame to compassion, judgment to understanding, punishment to justice, rivalry to synergy, and suspicion to laughter. Transcendence is in the human being.”

I don’t even know if I’m as hopeful as Eisenstein, but I’m hanging on. If you feel called to, read his full piece here. It’s time we rise above the modern-day witch hunt. Or else, what is the alternative to discourse? Coercion, force, tyranny, war…

Faced with such a horrific alternate reality, bridging the gap would be one of the greatest undertakings. Let it happen organically and brilliantly. Let yourself build bridges and let yourself burn them. Through the framework and the flames, I wish for each of us to awaken from the illusion of separation because we are one in essence, and that is worth fighting for. Muster up some moral courage. Trust your strength. Do your best to be a light in the night and be a knight and fight for the human spirit. This might be our last chance.

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Sienna Mae Heath

Sienna Mae Heath was once a pessimistic liberal, but has now awakened as an optimistic independent. She’s living in between, part of the bridge generation trying to find unity and truth for us all. As the star and writer of the micro-documentary "Real Unity" produced by Free the People and screened at the Anthem Film Festival (FreedomFest) 2021, she welcomes her fellow Americans to share their journeys of political sovereignty #IDeclareMyFreedom.

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