It seems weird to write that, too grandiose somehow…me, speaking to the world. As if “the world” gives a damn what I think or say. I hear that a lot—that it doesn’t matter how we vote, if we reach out to our elected officials, or even if a single individual throws a wrapper out their car window because how can just one person effect change? It feels pointless, like screaming into the void.
And yet…I’m not that jaded.
Even after weeks like we just had, when it’s easy to feel exhausted with humanity and succumb to bitter, cynical, angry, exasperation at the onslaught of stupidity that seems to be coming at us from all sides, I still see the power of the individual. If it’s not our own goddamn President ratcheting up nuclear tensions with North Korea through one irresponsible statement after the next, it’s fascists and white supremacist assholes leading violent protests over a piece of concrete carved to look like a racist traitor in Charlottesville, VA. It’s easy to feel like we’ve turned a dangerous corner in this country.
And yet…I still choose to believe in humanity.
Yes, I’m just one person, one voice among the millions. But so are you. You are another voice that can be raised in resistance to the hate. And your neighbor has a voice. And your co-worker has a voice. Your best friend, your parents, grandparents, siblings… that random guy down the street who you see mowing his lawn while wearing socks with sandals. We all have voices that can be raised together to speak love, truth, and understanding against the violence.
In times of great tragedy I immediately seek out the stories of humanity, and I find them instantly. The Manchester bombing, Pulse nightclub, September 11—if there is a single thread of silver lining to these truly awful-beyond-imagination events, it is the acts of real heroism they engender. Nevertheless, I’m saddened that it takes horrific acts of violence for the world to see amazing acts of humanity.
But the darkness makes the light shine that much brighter. Regular, everyday people are spurred to action out of an unspoken love of humanity. Total strangers who would normally pass by each other on the street without truly seeing each other reach out to help a fellow human being in crisis, not because they have to or want to but because it’s the right thing to do.
I imagine that as time goes on we will hear similar stories emerge from Charlottesville. Already, there are reports of brave college students being the first on the scene to peacefully counter-protest the alt-right mobs. These UVA students linked arms and stood silently holding a sign that read “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy.” This handful of young people didn’t even use their voices, yet they proclaimed love loudly enough for the world to hear.
One of my favorite songs is “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers. The song is pure 70s rock n roll—upbeat, mellow and optimistic. It oozes with the sense that the world can get through anything if people just smile with a song in their heart and take it day-by-day. The song never fails to lift my spirits, regardless of what the day brings me. Just listen to the music, and all will be well.
Recently, I read an article where band co-founder Tom Johnston said that the song was too idealistic now because, when he wrote it, he believed that the world could be a better place if the world leaders got together for some good music and just forgot about all the bullshit. I’ll always love that song and that ideal, but I agree with Tom—that’s not realistic. (Can you see 45 at a jam session with Putin and Merkel?!) I’m not trying to be some hippy-dippy “love and sunshine” eternal optimist that refuses to the see the bad in the world. I don’t think love is enough, but it’s a damn good place to start.
Forty years after “Listen to the Music,” the Doobies put out another song, called “A Brighter Day.” It’s meant to be a grown-up version of the former and does not ignore the trials of the world. The most pointed lyrics talks about a boy who “sees the world and all its troubles” but can still feel joy even in times of despair. “A Brighter Day” encourages happiness and community without asking you to gloss over the tragedies. These are more honest sentiments—the band is no longer promising to make the world smile, and they don’t ask you to just dance your troubles away.
Why do we need a realistic outlook? Because it’s never going to be that easy. We can’t singlehandedly fight all the Nazis out there or sway the crooked politicians. And it may feel like your voice is being drowned out amongst all the craziness, but you can reach out to the person next to you and recognize that they are indeed a person. If enough of us do that, together we can make enough noise to let the world know that we value love and humanity over anything else, “so that all the people can have a brighter day.”
That’s my message to the world, and I’m not spending time thinking about how many or how few people hear it. If just one person reads this and decides to use their voice to speak with love or is inspired to take some sort of action, then it will be enough.