Finding sunshine in a cloudy life - Mental Health

Fear sells but we are not obligated to buy

Easter morning, 2019. The day was lovely, I was well-rested, and feeling as though all was right with the world. Then I read about the bombings in Sri Lanka. Just like that, the good feeling was gone.

My immediate reaction to this news was horror followed by bafflement, as it is whenever heinous acts come to light. I firmly believe that people are essentially good, and so these things always take me by surprise. After the initial shock of the news wore off, I was gripped by a fierce determination to climb on the metaphorical rooftop and shout; reminding people that there is so much good in the world. The terrible acts in Sri Lanka don’t define humanity, and that fact needs to be spread far and wide.

While awareness of current events has a very important place in our global society and in our ability to effect change, it is important to recognize that the sensational makes “better news” than the ordinary. The very same thing that slows traffic to a crawl as people pass the site of a car accident, and gathers people from all corners of the park when they hear the chant, “fight, fight, fight,” keeps us glued to the TV set after a tragedy. It’s the combination of feelings aroused in us. We are simultaneously glad it didn’t happen to us, afraid that it might, and somehow excited to be a witness to something that draws us out of our daily lives.

As consumers of the news (and really anything else), we are not only in control of what we consume, we actually have an obligation to ourselves and each other to be aware of what we are taking in. We need to step back from the headlines long enough to separate our instinctive reactions from the information itself.

Technology has made it possible to see footage from across the world, in real time, while sitting in our living rooms. Our brain chemicals are triggered just as if we were on the scene. Fed a steady diet of such footage, with slow motion replays and zoom lenses, our minds are getting the message that these events are actually happening, again, and again, and again.

On the same day the news media were reporting on the devastation, little acts of love were being performed all over the world; not in response to the horror, and not in attempts to gain some news station the best ratings, but in the way the purest acts of love are always performed — out of goodness and joy and hope.

“A high school student wrote to ask, ‘What was the greatest event in American history?’ I can’t say. However, I suspect that like so many ‘great’ events, it was something very simple and very quiet with little or no fanfare (such as someone forgiving someone else for a deep hurt that eventually changed the course of history). The really important ‘great’ things are never center stage of life’s dramas; they’re always ‘in the wings.’ That’s why it’s so essential for us to be mindful of the humble and the deep rather than the flashy and the superficial.”

Fred Rogers

As I sat in my living room later that morning, I saw my neighbor’s father hiding eggs for his grandchild to find. It wasn’t in hopes of praise for being such a fantastic grandparent, nor was it for any external validation or reward at all. He had no idea he was even being observed. It was a simple act of love, to see happiness and excitement in the eyes of a child he cares about.

It’s easy to love the people who love us, who are nice to us, who we respect and admire. This kind of love is important and good, and there is merit in sharing that love out loud so that people know it is there. Loving out loud doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is a practical step toward overcoming the fearful and mistaken belief that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. Every time you share your feelings of love, acceptance, and encouragement, you are creating a world filled with those same things.

Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world

Desmond Tutu

Yet, before you fall into the trap of thinking that kindness is only to be found within the small sphere of one’s family and friends, take a moment to look at the many examples that show otherwise. There are gardens planted for the express purpose of feeding the homeless. There are Christians protecting mosques and Muslims protecting temples. There are Little Free Libraries and Little Free Pantries. This is love in action. The people who are doing these things are offering what they have to people who have a need for it. These things are done regardless of differences in religion, social status, or anything else that ties them together besides shared humanity.

Embracing the concept of shared humanity is fundamental for us to be able to see past the fear that’s being sold so readily and cheaply. Being fearful leads us into an “us vs. them” mentality. In order to feel safe and protected, we cling to the familiar and rebuff the different.

Our differences needn’t be a cause of division, but rather a way to support one another. My husband, for example, is really good with numbers, while I’m better at languages. I won’t deny I feel astonishment (and a bit of envy) when I witness his math skills, but I am fortunate to have him around when it’s time to file taxes! On the other hand, when we were in France and wanted to know if a cafe was open, his math skills would not have served us nearly as well as my basic knowledge of French did.

Just as in the microcosmic example of my own family, sharing the world with people who are different opens the door to a richer and more fulfilling experience of life. It doesn’t matter if you believe all of humankind began in Africa, or that we all came from Adam and Eve, or that our ancestors were created by aliens. It doesn’t even matter if you believe Adam and Eve were created by aliens and placed in Africa. Ultimately what matters is that we are humans, together. Instead of fixating on the latest update of the latest atrocity, we can choose to invest that energy in what we, ourselves, can do to make the world better.

Not all of us have a lawn we can convert to a yard full of vegetables to share, but everyone has something to contribute. Quantum physics states that the very act of observation affects what is being observed. I ask you to choose what you are observing carefully. Indeed, in the case of the Sri Lanka bombings, as with any act of terror, what the terrorists want is maximum attention. Instead of giving your repeated attention to them and to the latest announcement that the investigation is ongoing, turn off the TV and go introduce yourself to that neighbor you’ve never met.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So, let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. 

Jack Layton

This week, I wish for you, and for all of us, the awareness to see the good in the world, the confidence to share your good with the world, and the knowledge that there is no “them.” “They” aren’t causing the problem and “they” can’t fix the problem because, it turns out, every person on this planet is part of “us.”

Brightest blessings, Sunny

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