I’d like to think I’m an average citizen. I have a decent life with comfortable conveniences and I take it all for granted.
And sometimes, I listen to the news. The depressing, world-is-coming-to-an-end-but-we’re-so-excited-to-tell-you-about-it-and-even-speculate-about-the-details news. So I think, “Wow, that sucks.” Then, I change the channel to Seinfeld re-runs while I try to decide what I want for dinner.
Lately, though, it seems our local, regional, national and even global news has been dominated by a particularly sinister brand of anger and bigotry. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, chances are, if you’re reading, watching or listening to the news, there’s someone being “interviewed” about how we should treat other human beings.
Yes, given recent events, we’re understandably raw.
There are facts that we cannot and should not ignore: Racism is real. At home and abroad, the people who police and lead our communities rarely reflect the racial and social mix of our communities. And terrorism is real. At home and abroad, we’ve suffered heart-wrenching, terrifying attacks that are bound to inspire a degree of nationalism and desire for protection to prevent it from happening again.
But how we feel versus how we react are entirely different… Until we see posters imploring us to “See Something, Say Something,” and hear politicians clamoring for a stop to immigration.
But what if it didn’t?
Imagine, for example, you’re a parent with a child in preschool. (I know, bear with me.) Your toddler, who loves to paint, is routinely picked on by a kid whose favorite color is blue*, and he always splatters blue paint all over your child’s drawings.
Well, what would you do? Would you try to start a coalition of parents to pick out all the kids who love the color blue and ban them from the school? Or, would you use the bully as a teachable moment, to arm your child with an understanding about life and how we can try to navigate difficult and even painful situations?
If you’re still with me, I hope you can tell where I’m going with this. As humans, as citizens, as neighbors, we have to do better. While our “parents” might rather round up everyone they now consider a bully, the good news is, we’re not helpless children.
Seriously, we’re not.
We can stand up, not out of fear, but out of understanding. And not of them, but of each other.
It’s too true that we fear what we don’t know. Well, in my experience, people understand kindness.
So what if, instead of reacting out of fear, through campaigns like “See Something, Say Something,” which inherently promote misunderstanding and racism, we were to flip that reaction on its head? What if we were to take something that inspires fear and use it to inspire kindness?
Imagine now that your child’s been picked on several times by that blue-paint-splattering bully. Despite several parent-teacher meetings, the reprehensible behavior continues. Your child is terrified of painting now, and when the next art day rolls around, even the teacher gets splattered on for trying to control the situation. But then, in the midst of your child’s frustration and pain, another student comes up and tries to lend a comforting hand. Even though blue is their favorite color too, they share their canvas with your child and together they paint a more colorful, brighter picture than either had before.
OK, yes, it’s a cheesy metaphor. And I’m sure you’d still be pissed at that bully kid (and probably his parents too), but tell me you wouldn’t also be grateful for your child’s new friend who came over to lend a hand and show them that not all blue-lovers are bad?
In simpler terms: We need to stop judging people out of fear and start connecting through our understanding of the power of kindness toward each other.
What might that look like in action? What would happen if we, as citizens and neighbors, commandeered the social and news media hype that so overtly feeds off of our bigoted fears?
Maybe it’s as simple as hijacking a negative to highlight something positive. Saying something good when you see something good.
A white policeman protected a black teenager? #BlackLivesMatter
A middle-eastern man dropped his bags to help an elderly man onto the bus? #SeeSomethingSaySomething
A Republican politician’s ancestors emigrated because of a war? #WakeUp
Maybe I’m dreaming and these examples don’t exist. But what if the key to positive change is more about being positive? About inspiring people to want to do good, so that good is seen and shared, instead of promoting fear that deepens silos and rejects unity?
I’m not saying we should ignore injustice or avoid calling attention to prejudice and wrongdoing. We absolutely should bring these problems to light, because everyone deserves justice and equality.
But can we afford to dwell on the negative alone? Wouldn’t that perpetuate the fear that underlies these very injustices? If all we see is hatred, what decency is there that makes us believe change can come?
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re all doomed to succumb to fear and loathing and war.
*I have nothing against the color blue. It’s just the first color I could think of. Probably because I’m wearing blue sweats.