Every day we hear atrocities on the news: another plane crash, in the French Alps or in the Orient; Islamic extremists have bombed a museum or a mosque or yet another site; Robert Durst, serial killer, is suspected of killing yet more women over many years; yet another black unarmed youth is shot by a white police officer. Yet another celebrity or journalist or politician or sports figure or campus-based group is behaving badly, cringe-worthy. And there is Ebola in Western Africa. And on and on it goes.
With these thoughts in the periphery of my mind, I read a newsletter entry by the pastor of a church I attend, and he said the following:
You would never know it from reading the newspaper, but our world is more peaceful that it has ever been in human history. And, though it is far from perfect, we have made indisputable progress toward equality on a global scale.
Local news tells us stories of crimes and house fires. National news tells us about global terrorism, vindictive national politics and environmental devastation, even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age.
The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence that affect most people—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states, by far the most destructive of all conflicts, are nearly obsolete.
From time to time I hear talk of a broken and hurting world. I drift in that direction myself from time to time. But at our core we are a tradition of hope and gratitude. As we embrace the season of renewal and hope, let’s remember the sky is not falling. In fact this is an absolutely amazing time to be alive.
Well, he hasn’t cited statistics to bolster his comments, but if he is right, then I think this is a good example of “glass half full;” vs.“glass half empty.” And yet I still have this nagging feeling that things aren’t quite right with the world; after all, these atrocities being cited on the news aren’t invented. OK, some networks might over-catastrophize a bit much or put a negative spin on things, but some are more “just the facts” than others. Drive by shootings and child abductions are not a figment of my imagination.
So what if we made a vow that each day, or each week, we would look through the news to find some positive stories – people giving back, local heroes, social activists supporting worthy causes? This is one way to restore your mind to some semblance of calm.
So to put my actions where my mouth is, I looked through the news and found the following. For instance KNX 1070, local CBS radio affiliate, honors people who make extraordinary contributions to the community. They name a Hero of the Week every week. One such nominee is actually a group involving three teenage girls who founded a service called “A Call Away.” Each of them had at one point had some family emergencies that threw their families into disarray and chaos, disrupting regular meals and shopping, involving increases in medical bills. Regular bills went unpaid while they attended to the plight of ill or hospitalized family members. So their service, “A Call Away,” provides such services as grocery shopping, running errands, homework help, delivering meals to families, playing with kids while adults make hospital visits, pet care, laundry, etc. These services are rendered to those who have family members in a hospital, or dealing with a sudden death in family. The girls do this on a complimentary basis, except for out-of-pocket expenses actually incurred, like the cost of groceries. It would be noteworthy for persons of any age to extend themselves like this, but these are young teens with studying and school assignments to complete regularly. Yet, they use their spare time to help others. Surely they are role models for peers and younger kids they meet. Instead of hanging out at the mall, or tagging neighborhood block walls, they are actually making a difference.
I also recently was reminded of an activist faith-based group in Orange County that works on restorative justice, peace-building from the ground up, and allows members of the community to gather and tell their stories about living with crime, bombings, sniper shots, homelessness, school drop outs, poverty, unemployment. Together, they seek positive ways to change the social, environmental and behavioral realities in their world to bring about positive change, even though it may start slowly and build gradually.
Another group I know visits detainees at a local Orange County immigrant detention center, detained while they await a court date, to find out if they will be deported or allowed to remain in the US. After concerted effort, the visitors were able to get their visitation program approved by ICE. The detainees request visits using a signup sheet posted in their dorms. Some of them have been detained for months, their families in their native countries not knowing of their plight. Some have fled a country of violence and unrest and are seeking asylum. Some have children they have not seen for a long time. Some have had no visitors for months and are just grateful to see another human presence. I know many who think these folks should just be deported and they have their reasons, their arguments, their points of view, their justifications, and their biases. But after I hear my friends, who are part of the visitor program, talk about their feelings after hearing the stories of the detainees they’ve visited, I realize there are almost always two sides to each story. And these visitors are taking the time to listen to the stories. And they are changed, transformed by the listening. As one visitor says: “I realize that I cannot solve all the problems of the immigration system, but for 30 minutes I can listen and remind someone that they are not alone.”
Another local news station is having a “Puppypalooza,” an adoption effort to help hundreds of homeless puppies and dogs find homes. There is a real need and it is a feel good story as well. It is much more heartening than hearing about another roadside bombing in a third world country.
So, when I hear news that is dreadful, I think of these positive examples, and look for more, and I almost always find one. It is my touchstone, a reminder that the sky isn’t falling, even though at times I am sure it is tilting.