A few weeks ago I picked my 7th-grade tutee up from school and as he climbed into the car he said, “Want to hear a list of all the bad things that have happened to me this week?”
What followed was indeed a list of decently bad things- six of them, all in one week. That’s rough. But instead of offering my sympathy I decided to turn this into a lesson. “Okay,” I said, a challenge in my voice. “Now, for every negative thing you said, you have to give me one positive.”
You might have thought I’d told him they were canceling the sport of basketball. He was beside himself. Given how negatively he was feeling, I can imagine how difficult- or maybe even seemingly useless- it must have felt to talk about some silly little positives. But with a great deal of unwillingness on his part and some carrying the team on mine, he finally listed six positive things. I was congratulating myself on my unique brand of torture and wondering if I’d taught a lasting lesson when, as he climbed out of the car- without prompting- he listed one more positive thing. There… a small change.
If I were to pick up America at school tomorrow, what would its list be? Take your pick: guns. Abortion. Terrorists. Immigration. Refugees. Ferguson. North Carolina. South Carolina. Miami.
Is anybody else tired of getting on Facebook because you know all you’ll see is post after post of anger, frustration, and pain? A lot of awful things have happened in the last year, and I can say for my feed that these emotions come from people who care a great deal about things being better. But when we all communicate that want through negativity, I think something gets lost.
What if, instead of saying, “It shouldn’t be like this,” we said, “I believe we can be better.” What if, instead of saying, “This is ridiculous,” we said, “We are so lucky to live in a place where we can create change.” What if, instead of saying, “I hate that this happened,” we said, “I’m on my way to help?”
I have a challenge for all of us. Let’s express our strong feelings not through anger, frustration, and pain, but instead through hope, help, and change. Think about it this way: for every natural or human-made disaster, there are always countless people who want to help. How’s that for something positive?
Here’s another positive morsel: for every bad news item you see, so many good things happened in the world that you didn’t hear about. Those good things may appear to belong on a much smaller scale, but they aren’t necessarily less important. In fact, for our sanity, I think we have to make them just as meaningful as those big bad things (if you like, make Marcel as big as King Kong; make Flounder as big as Jaws). Sure, share what Miami made you feel. But then share something with hope. Share something happy. This does not mean that you’re ignoring the bad thing that happened; it means that you are doing your part to inject something positive into a world that desperately, desperately needs it.
I always wondered why nobody did something. Then I realized. I am somebody.
You may not be a politician, an expert, or a loud advocate, but there is something you can do in the face of tragedy: you can meet it with something good. You can be the source of energy and positivity that offers the rest of us the hope that we need to heal or to create change. You can be the one who, instead of condemning people of a certain group or political party, says, “I stand with you. You are not alone.”
What if we combatted mass shootings- yes, with advocacy for institutional change- but also with a tsunami of compassion, so that the next shooter doesn’t feel like there’s no other way to express what they feel? Like the people in the ’60s who offered policemen flowers, fight back with love. Fight back with togetherness. Fight back with understanding, with acceptance. Could it be that compassion is the one ingredient we’re missing as we try to change the world?
There’s so much talk of “slacktivism,” hating on people who flock to social media to express sadness at tragic events like what happened in Miami instead of actually standing up to do something about it. My belief is that we can use our expressions in a meaningful way; we can use them to help this constant stream of negativity grind to a halt. And we can do that by expressing the opposite… love.
I urge you to see the positive, or even to just say it if you don’t quite see it yet. I urge you to use good as your weapon, because good can be strong. And most importantly I urge you to love hard, no matter how frustrated you are, because only then will our words have real meaning. Only then can we create a real change.