“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32
I once read that this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. But I believe the power of this statement goes beyond any Biblical teaching; it’s not specific to Christianity or any religion.
I believe that knowing the truth does indeed free us – it frees us to think openly, hear clearly, see broadly, and feel wholly.
To explain, I need to turn to another movie – The Matrix.
Morpheus - The Matrix is everywhere…It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo - What truth?
In these previous two posts, I talked about seeing and accepting the truth. That we all have dark sides; that we are all, at times, racist (the adjective, not the noun). This truth is hard to face, and I share some ideas on how to make it easier.
So how does this relate to the 1999 classic movie, starring a fresh-faced Keanu Reeves and kung fu fighting Laurence Fishburne? (I confess I really enjoyed re-watching it as part of my “research” for this post.)
If you’re not familiar with The Matrix – the plot, in brief, “depicts a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality, the Matrix, created by intelligent machines to distract humans while using their bodies as an energy source. When computer programmer...Neo uncovers the truth, he ‘is drawn into a rebellion against the machines’ along with other people who have been freed from the Matrix.”
Still don’t see how it relates? Let’s keep exploring.
The prison we’re in
Morpheus - You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison – for your mind.
We may not be living in a false reality controlled by evil machines (yet), but we are still living under the social constructs, government systems and hierarchical structures that resulted from centuries of colonization.
In our own way, we are in prison. Not a physical prison, or even a virtual reality prison. Our way of thinking, how we see and interpret the world, are imprisoned.
The term “prison” may shock you. That’s kind of the point. I didn’t see it before – things I took for granted as “Canadian culture”, “societal norms”, and beneficial government policies, are all things that are tinged with colonization and systemic discrimination.
As an immigrant, I adopted these ways of thinking as my own. I learned how to operate within a box, bounded by rules and protocol that determined what was appropriate. I learned how to be successful and acceptable, always within the box. Anything outside the box was at best suspect; more likely, offensive.
This box was my prison. My mind was in bondage to the truth and expectations determined hundreds of years ago, often racist and discriminatory. For example, the “history” I learned in school 30 years ago, did not teach me about atrocities committed against our Indigenous peoples. I did not know about Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children until 2018.
When I started working, the shackles got tighter. I not only absorbed the corporate thinking about hiring, managing and evaluating people, I became complicit in the processes and structures designed to promote a certain type of person, and keep others down. These processes and structures were not overtly discriminatory. If they were, maybe I would have recognized them earlier.
Then again, maybe not. That’s what makes it a prison – a prison of mistaken beliefs and partial truths. Things that I accepted without question as “that’s how it’s done”, were sincerely believed by my managers and I. We all thought we were doing the right things; even that we were doing things for other people’s good.
Seeing your prison
Morpheus - Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
What are some examples of this in a work context? In my experience, it shows up in several ways:
It’s how people need to dress, talk and behave to be considered “professional”.
It’s offering recruitment bonuses to employees if people they refer get hired – effectively hiring for similarity rather than diversity.
It’s promoting a man over a woman because she took maternity leave and therefore has “less experience”.
It’s kindly telling staff that they should find another job, because they “don’t have what it takes” to be an executive in this company.
There are tons more, but maybe the worst one for me personally, was my then-boyfriend telling me that he had to go to a strip club with his team, because it was a “work thing” and he couldn’t say no. (We did not stay together.)
When I started realizing these things, and how I’ve been complicit in them (not the strip club one!) – that’s when I started to see the Matrix.
And once I started seeing the Matrix – I saw it everywhere. I saw it in the way we treated international staff without Canadian credentials. I saw it in the sea of White faces on boards and executive teams. I saw it in my children’s Bible which literally painted Jesus as White (he’s not, by the way – I didn’t know that until 2020).
Neo - I can’t go back, can I?
Morpheus - No. But if you could – would you really want to?
A natural reaction to being imprisoned, is to want to break free. Especially in North America, where independence and freedom is a core value.
But when your prison is all you’ve known, sometimes the incentive to stay imprisoned is just as strong, or even stronger.
The prison is familiar, and familiarity breeds safety and comfort – even if it’s false comfort. For some of us, the prison is actually beneficial. We’ve had good lives; we’re not really suffering. Other people might not have it as good as us, but we can’t solve all the world’s problems, right?
The thing is – once we see our prisons – if we’re not rebelling against it, we’re actually upholding it. We are keeping others imprisoned, while staying imprisoned ourselves. And we justify it, or maybe turn a blind eye to it, because we’re comfortable.
It’s easier to believe that our prison is mostly OK, than to rebel and be released into a world that is unfamiliar, and therefore frightening and uncomfortable.
Will you change your lens, and see that the Matrix of our society is just an illusion - that reality is very different?
Can you find the faith to believe that, though initially uncomfortable, living outside the Matrix is better than living inside?
Will you seek the courage to face the unknown, to explore different ways of thinking, working and being?
Morpheus - I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.
If you’re ready to leave your prison and move into a new future (and I realize not everyone is), it’s important to know there’s a difference between being set free, and living free.
Think of it this way. If you’ve always been right-handed, and suddenly your brain changed so that you’re ambidextrous – your capacities have expanded, but you still have to learn how to use them.
When our minds are freed from the box that’s constrained our thinking – this is of course a good thing, but it’s a major change, and change is scary.
And here is where my comparison with The Matrix movie ends. Our world doesn’t have one single superhero with physics-defying powers to save the day.
What we do have, is millions of everyday people who refuse to accept the way things are, and are fighting for change. We have people who have seen the truth of long-denied, avoided, covered-up racism and discrimination.
We have billions more who have not yet seen the truth; who are still imprisoned.
For those of you who have been freed – yes, the path is hard, but you’re not walking it alone. I’m on this path myself, and I’m looking for others to join with, to support each other, make change happen faster, and increase our impact.
If you feel the same, please connect with me – I want to hear you and journey with you.
Do you believe you are inside or outside the “Matrix” of your society?
What makes you want to stay inside the Matrix? What makes you want to leave?
If you’re outside the Matrix – what's one thing you can do to make change happen? What help do you need?
Share your stories and comments.
All photos are screenshots from my owned copy of The Matrix.