I’ll never forget when I first started teaching yoga. Back in the year 2000 at At One Yoga Scottsdale, a a lady from Tucson took my 10:30am Flow class. I recall long hairs on her legs, steel-rimmed glasses on her face, a ziploc bag filled with turnips (who knows?) by her yoga mat next to an Anusara Teacher Training Manual. She finished class and proceeded to give me an unsolicited review of my teaching that included the words “terrible” “dangerous” and “lawsuit.” I know, I know, I know…feedback is an important part of being a yoga teacher. But I must admit, this was one of a handful of situations in my life when I wished I would have spoken out! That lady was malicious and ripped into me, a brand new yoga teacher doing the very best I could. The beauty of our great nation is that there is a profound respect for freedom. That’s why there is an almost spiritual reverence for Jet Blue flight attendant Stephen Slater’s profanity laced tirade against a verbally abusive passenger on Monday. As you probably know by now, Slater finished the tirade, then grabbed a beer and slid down the escape chute before being hauled off to jail. Rumors persist that Slater provoked the unruly passenger. That’s beside the point. Is Slater’s response not something we’ve all dreamed of doing…flipping the proverbial bird at an obnoxious student, boss, manager, or spouse?!
When the North Korean soccer team returned home after a disappointing showing at the recent World Cup in South Africa, they were forced onto a stage at the People’s Palace of Culture and subjected to criticism from Pak Myong-chol, the sports minister, as 400 government officials, students and journalists watched (visit here to read more). Worst of all, North Korea’s soccer coach Kim Jong-Hun was put to shame and punished by being sentenced to forced labor as a builder. One can only imagine how much those North Korean soccer players and coach aspired to react like Stephen Slater. It’s not just the North Korean soccer team or the entire North Korean population of 23 million who lack the freedom to speak out. According to Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organization, there are currently over 20 million people in bondage. Modern-day slaves can be found laboring as servants or concubines in Sudan, as child “carpet slaves” in India, or as cane-cutters in Haiti and southern Pakistan.
As Americans, we tend to take our freedom for granted. Roosevelt said, “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.” Stephen Slater has become a strange sort of hero because he “achieved” freedom; but more importantly, because he reminds us, by the Grace of God, we are not North Korean soccer players, carpet slaves, cane-cutters, or concubines. We CAN take full advantage of our freedom by exercising it… by speaking out for what’s right…and sometimes, just sometimes…by speaking out against what’s wrong.