It’s easy to lose sight of the good in the world, but it’s out there, doing it thing — in ways you never expected. You just have to know what to look for and where to find it. The answer’s a lot more accessible and potent than many would have you believe.
Let's face it, here in the United States there's a good chance 2018 will go down in history books as a monumentally bad trip around the sun, as well it should. Some might attribute the bad excursion to coast-to-coast grouchiness, but the reason is far more intense than that. There's no need to scratch the surface in search of the flat-out malevolence that's been perpetrated against People of Color (persons who are not white or of European parentage), women, the LGBT community, immigrants, the poor, the disabled, the aged, et al, because our society lauds this hatred and parades it out in the open for all to see.
Tons of people, from the powerful to everyday men and women, have been wistfully wringing their hands for a return to the glory days of yore that frankly weren’t all that glorious for the rest of us. Another faction of the populace has abandoned truth and facts and wholly embraced the practice of bald-faced lying — especially to those deemed “other” — in order to achieve their own goals. Self is their raison d’être. Bad behavior is their cause célèbre, greed is their modus operandi, and “the end justifies the means” is their battlecry.
Shenanigans are on display everywhere. In social, political, and economic arenas — you can’t go anywhere without someone seeking to squelch life, demean civilization, and sink to a new and lower level of loathing— with no regard as to how their actions might impact others.
A large segment of America is suffering from battle fatigue brought on by ne’er-do-wells assaulting the most basic standards of decency, aided by the media that’s picked up the mantle to hype life and death happenings from all the wrong angles.
Wait. Stop. Hold up.
There’s no need for to me to re-open the Pandora’s Box of hatred that was 2018. You lived through every minute of it like me and probably have stories of your own that could curl an elephant’s toes backwards. Yes, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us, but each of us has to be able to pull the emergency brake while hurtling towards our saturation point that once seemed like a dot on the horizon.
People, we’ve been living in the upside-down for so long we aren’t even aware of it. For instance, not so long ago, violent acts (school shootings, murders, violence against women, what have you) were once thought of as shocking. Why? Two reasons: 1) such incidents were rarely brought into the light of day and discussed in public, 2) today’s transgressions far outnumber those of previous decades. Now, flying off the handle is no big deal. Flipping the finger has been replaced with flipping tables. Brace yourself, but acts of kindness have become events worthy of clutching one’s pearls.
If we’re consumed with the latest act of inhumanity, inevitably we will find ourselves lulled into a desensitized state in which we expect bad behavior from all humans all the time. Hubris, condescension, defensiveness, and their permutations recalibrate our capacity for fluid openness and compassion into uncompromising defensiveness and apathy as our default setting. Crazy thing is that both can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Sometimes the prophetic progression goes something like this: innocent discourse triggers disproportionate reactions, the confrontation escalates, friends are unfriended or discreetly muted/ignored, we retreat to our like-minded camps, and numb our responses to “them” without giving their point of view one scintilla of the very same consideration we demand.
I know what I’m talking about here.
Three conflicts from last year come to mind, about which I can honestly say that my handling of the situation was much less than exemplary. (Translation: wrong.) One relationship is for all intents and purposes irreparably broken; the second, I have hope for; and the third, I have no idea what to expect as we haven’t been in touch since our difference of opinion. How do I fix it? For starters, I own up to my misdeed, apologize, and go about making amends. What happens next is in their hands. I can’t control their response, but I have total control of my response.
Think about it. For every person who’s speeding through traffic at breakneck speeds, putting their life and the lives of others at risk, there’s hundreds of people who abide by the agreed upon laws and social contract for driving, and even make accommodations for those putting the rest of us at risk. A few people even go out of their way to help the injured.
There will always be people who bring to our attention what’s broken, wrong, or flawed. Where would we be without those who can suss out why that thing is flawed? There is great value in sounding the alarm, but we’re all sounding the alarm, who’s affecting change?
What do we do? How do we go on in this onslaught of hate?
Play for the long game: love one another.
First things first. Before you can love others, you must be able to love yourself, and I’m not talking self-adulation at the expense of everyone else. There’s enough people walking around with that worldview as it is. I’m sure we can call think of at least one person who’s priority is self. They sit on the throne of their own heart and in their mind the world exists to serve them alone. Shortsightedness like that leaves no room for compassion, empathy, sympathy, or interest as those emotions involve placing someone else’s needs in focus momentarily.
If you love yourself, you’re going to do those things that are in your best interest. At the very least, you’re going to make sure that your basic needs (food, water, clothing, shelter, sanitation, education, healthcare, safety) are met. You’ll cut yourself a little slack for making mistakes. In short, you’re going to do what you need to be fulfilled.
You start right where we are with people you know because that’s where you’re going to have the biggest impact. It’s safe to assume that people don’t gain a distorted worldview in a couple of days. So you can expect that it will take even longer for someone to lose one. Be patient.
Loving another is not the old give and take transaction which mandates that I will give you my attention/affection on the condition that you in turn will reciprocate with your attention, favor, love, and/or sex. No part of loving another should involve quid pro quo. Think about it folks, if love can be bartered, it is really love?
In this new model of loving, love gives because it can — because it chooses to, with no strings attached. Loving this way is contagious. Those who have received unmerited love (friendship, kindness, nurturing) know its value and accompanying joy, and therefore yearn for someone else to experience that same feeling without an expectation that a debt must be paid or something is owed in return.
I can hear you already. Dude, you expect me to just give, give, give?
See, there’s a couple of cool things about love. Love is an unlimited resource, so that makes it sustainable. Start small and watch what happens. In essence, love is a choice. You can either choose to enact it or not. Boom! That’s it in a nutshell.
I’m not talking a namby-pamby love. I’m talking about a love that gives people a little wiggle room to make mistakes. It’s a love that takes into account the fact that everyone is dragging around their own foot-locker size emotional baggage and sometimes (more often than not) their bad reaction has nothing to do with you.
Just so we’re clear, this love I speak of isn’t the type of love that rolls over and plays dead when injustice comes to town. Love doesn’t fly off the handle in a blind rage, it responds with truth and respects the humanity of everyone it encounters.
Love can only exist in a space that values truth. Love says, You are so valued to me that I want the best for you, and that can only occur when you are free of delusions and misinformation, and are armed with the truth and is happy to share the truth, but not in manner that beats someone over the head. It’s all about timing.
Love says, …winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I’ll be there, you’ve got a friend. (Thank you, Carole King.) And who doesn’t want that? Who couldn’t benefit from that kind of love?
Love is the antidote to suspicion. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t believe people when they reveal who they really are. If you love yourself, you’re not going to deny the truth. (More on that in another essay.)
Love believes in a brighter tomorrow. And before you think I’m going all Pollyanna, hear me out. As a forty-eight-inch tall, gay, black Christian man living in these United States, let me tell you, I know about hatred. The prejudice, racism, and homophobia I’ve seen are enough to fill a dozen books.
I could choose to focus on that, but I don’t. That would poison my spirit and make me a bitter and miserable person. But because I’ve been blessed to know love, it’s freed to transcend people’s ignorance and misconceptions. I choose love.
Don’t get it twisted. It’s not that I am such a great lover of people. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not and there’s people who’ll agree, but — and here’s the key — I’ve been the recipient of enormous amounts of love. I’m well acquainted with its benefits and am striving to love more often, deeper, and with more abandon.
So yes, the world can be a dark place, but love is the light that dissipates the darkness. And you have access to that light when you choose to.
Love one another.