It doesn’t seem to matter where we are in the world, if we focus on the ”news’’, it’s easy to despair at events and lose hope in humanity.
UK philosopher Alain de Botton says the news plays with our emotions, sparking fear and anger and then ”exploits our weak hold on a sense of perspective.’’ (The News: A User’s Manual)
We may be frightened when we learn of more terrorist events in Kenya and the Middle East and civil war in Syria but if we look in those same places and seek out stories of belonging and connection, we find not only some perspective but inspiration.
The key to how we see the world, how we filter news stories and how we interact with the world outside our front door, is choice.
There are stories of humanity and kindness all around us if only we choose to look for them. Interpretation is everything: we can fear hoards of asylum seekers who look different and speak different languages, or we can see potential and enrichment. We can look at the elderly and imagine how much they will cost us (forgetting that we too will one day be the elderly) or we can seek out their experiences and learn of our own tenuous links to history.
All we need to do is shift our focus: find new heroes, choose new role models, adopt new mentors.
1. Find New Heroes
When you watch the news about Syria, do you feel helplessness at the growing millions of refugees, barrel bombs, civilian deaths and Islamic terrorist groups?
Don’t let the news encourage you to lump individuals into groups that de-humanize them. Syria is an educated country with a huge middle class. The White Helmets are unarmed, unpaid civilians who were builders and bankers, teachers and pharmacists — just like you and me. Now they risk their lives daily to pull people from bombed-out rubble. These men, and more recently women, have saved more than 12,500 people. Over 80 of the White Helmets have been killed while trying to save others. Their motto is “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” They are nonpolitical humanitarians who are true heroes.
Find your new Syrian hero here and if you like what you read, join their call to stop the regime’s barrel bombs that are killing children, women and men.
If you want to know how Syrian people are working towards peace check out The Syria Campaign.
Concerned about race relations in the U.S.?
U.S. Lawyer Bryan Stevenson started the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative 25 years ago. He and his team challenge racially discriminatory policies and practices in the U.S. They represent those in American society in prison or on death row who aren’t given adequate legal representation.
2. Choose New Female Role Models
Do you despair over the rise of terrorism and extremists?
Everyone needs a role model. Find your new female role model at the Institute for Inclusive Security. Here women from different religious backgrounds and various war torn countries work together and also at a grass roots level to find new ways to create lasting peace by advancing women in leadership roles and including them in global security. Hillary Clinton has endorsed this network of over 2000 female peacemakers from conflict areas. Empowering women leads to change. See how one woman helped to end war in Liberia and how another woman is enlisting mothers to fight terrorism and extremism in Pakistan.
3. Adopt New Mentors
One person can make a difference. Anywhere. We don’t even need to meet our new mentors. Just read about what they’re doing and take inspiration from their pathways. They prove that we don’t need a fancy education to change a small part — or a big part — of our world. And we can learn a lot from the young.
Teacher Aziz Royesh founded Kabul’s Marefat School that the international community is viewing as a model for education in war-torn Afghanistan. Royesh, who has no professional teaching qualifications and is basically self-taught, is bringing these children a voice and choice about how they will act in this world. He’s teaching mainly impoverished Hazaras, a Shia Muslim minority, about civics, democracy and humanitarianism and urging them to question everything. And he’s focussing on educating girls too: he’s persuaded parents to let their daughters attend school. Girls now make up almost half of Marefat’s 3,500 students.
Canadian Craig Kielburger started Free The Children when he was 12, proving that we can all learn from the young. Since 1995 it’s grown into an international charity, also run by his brother Marc Kielburger, where children are helping children. It works with communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to teach them to lift themselves out of poverty. In North America, the UK and around the world it aims to educate, engage and empower youth to make a difference. With it’s Me to We slogan, it’s got to be one of the biggest belonging stories. All started by a kid.
Author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari founded San Francisco’s Valencia 826, a volunteer non profit agency that helps underprivileged children with their reading and writing to empower them. ”The written word is the most democratic form of self-empowerment that we have,” Eggers says. There are now several 826 nonprofit agencies around the US and other countries have copied its success.
Humanitarian Jean Vanier started L’Arche in 1964 when he welcomed two men with intellectual disabilities into his home. Now L’Arche is a federation of 147 communities in 35 countries. Vanier — author, philosopher, theologian — was just awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize, ”for his innovative discovery of the central role of vulnerable people in the creation of a more just, inclusive and humane society.’’
There are lots of horrible events in the news. We can’t ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. But in all these places, there are also people taking responsibility, saving lives, creating and nurturing belonging where it was once eradicated.
Can you share your inspirational people with me? Or maybe you’d like to share what you’re doing with me. One person can make a tremendous difference. Leave a comment and let me know who inspires you so I can keep building this list. And so we can keep finding the human beings — the women, the children, the men — behind the political stories.