Friday, February 8, 2019

"BECOMING" BY MICHELLE OBAMA: Lessons on Race and Family

For readers, I'm reviewing Michelle Obama: Becoming.  New York: Crown, 2018.  I enjoyed her book but I wish for more of the drama that she must have lived through in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Becoming is autobiographical. Its main strengths:
  • Easy reading though very long.
  • A window into normal personal and family life.
  • Examples of personal growth and family strengthening--how spouse helps spouse, parent helps child, child helps sibling. 
Usually we use the word “becoming” to mean “flattering” or “attractive.” Like, “he/she is S-O-O-O becoming.” Correct?

Well then, understand Michelle Obama’s special, more philosophical use of “becoming.” She means personal growth and improvement over time. “Becoming” is about her human process of responding to challenge and opportunity plus the growth that follows. Michelle reflects on her  life is a process of growth.

Getting great guidance about the "becoming" process through a special person's life story is the main reason to read the book. 

Obama traces the path of becoming from her childhood in Chicago through her Ivy League education at Princeton and Harvard. Then she forms a family with Barack, which only increases the process of becoming.

Where are you in your life’s becoming process? Young and in high school? Challenged to do better in school, sports, family life?

Are you in college, asking "How can I benefit from accepting the academic challenges thrown at me?" 

Are you a parent? "How can I balance work and home life while growing my skill as a parent?"

If you're in any of these phases, you can gain from Michelle's journey and become--yourself.

Michelle Obama at Prager Child Development Center
Photo in public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The becoming Michelle speaks of ramps up during Obama’s first campaign for president. For instance, she realizes her need for help in speech-writing. Her consultant encourages her to speak out about the things she enjoys the most: her love for Barack and their kids, her connections with working mothers, and her childhood Chicago roots. Each of us can apply easily this advice to our own communications with others.

Once Barack wins the election, the Obama family lives in a security bubble. Family support skills become even more crucial.

It’s a touching scene in which Laura Bush hosts Michelle in scouting out White House presidential living quarters (p. 290). We get a tour through rooms you and I will never see. Michelle credits Laura Bush for providing a very gracious welcome.

Michelle Obama in the White House

Photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you're facing work-family balance--whether political or other?  Michelle uses the term “balance” and it summarizes the book well, perhaps better than the more abstract word, “Becoming”. 

Finally, savor this key quotation: “If there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried my best to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people who are often brushed aside.” P. 241.  This "one thing" is both the nub of constructive political leadership in America and a lesson for any of us who are required to speak to audiences.

Still, the book has a shortcoming. It lacks drama. Were there no tremendous setbacks over the decades? Has Michelle’s life been a trip upward and onward from a mainly secure South Side childhood through an Ivy League education followed by a happy marriage with Barack and his great political success? No threats to this idyllic existence, no inevitable marital disagreements?  

In sum, you can gain by reading the book and even by just memorizing Michelle’s final sentences about power and grace: “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” (p. 421.)  And for me, I like the way she balances personal power and grace.

Obama writes, “I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey.” But so is your life journey unique. Have you celebrated fully your unique journey? If not, read Obama and be inspired. Become!

I recommend the book on reading lists for high school and college levels, for book discussion groups, and for individuals. 

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