September 5, 2015 by Leah
If you are like me, you will have noticed that the news lately has become awfully scary. It is hard to figure out how to incorporate a healthy amount of respect for and interest in issues like climate change, the global refugee crisis, and modern slavery while maintaining mental health and a happy home in our privileged society. It is often hard for me even to express an opinion on anything other than my own children or home décor, because I’m sure that in doing so I will offend someone, somewhere, with my massively privileged, white, cisgender, middle class, American, nominally Protestant, English-speaking worldview. Some days I feel like my perspective has no place in this world.
Some days I want to hole up under a blanket on my couch with a single malt and a novel (my version of complete escape). Some days I want to tell people who complain about little things to suck it up because our children are alive, our homes are (mostly, no thanks to the recent wildfire season) standing, there are doctors down the street and, while the drive-by shootings in our town of Walla Walla are increasing in frequency and legitimately scary, the government is not bombing our neighborhoods and torturing our loved ones. But that tactic is absolutely useless, because our small concerns are still valid, even in a time of global unrest. I’ve been on the other side of people telling me my problems are “first world problems.” It hurts, and it shuts down any chance of real communication between the two parties who, rationally, would probably agree with each other if given the chance.
Yes, it is brutally difficult to get up with a baby every hour for the first year of his life. Yes, it is horrifying that babies the world over are orphaned and dying thanks to war, famine, and disease. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of people living under siege, and yes, there are 36 million slaves. In our world. Right now. But we have the privilege of being educated humans – it is hard, but we are capable of dealing with multiple perspectives. And when I’m in danger of being overwhelmed by them, I think of Maya Angelou, who said, “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.”
Some days, my good is outwardly unremarkable. It might consist of making dinner for my family, or of observing a fleeting example of my 3-year-old practicing the empathy I’ve been trying so hard to teach him. Some days, I can send my birthday money to the U.N. Refugee Agency or make a meal for a friend in need. At some point in my life, either by teaching or by writing (or both), I’d like to reach a wider audience in hopes of convincing them that education and communication are key to discovering that most people want the same things out of life. That kindness is an American value. That capitalism does not mean valuing corporations over people. That rationality is not too much to expect from our elected officials and news outlets.
I came across a great concept from an unexpected source the other day. Colleen Fitch wrote on thecarseatblog.org, “I’d love to see the culture of zealots change. From those who are fanatical and uncompromising, to advocates that approach instead with zeal.” Fitch’s essay covers a specific example of the idea that has been proven time and again: you can’t change people’s minds with facts. The way to change the world is by building relationships based on mutual respect. People who feel offended and insulted are often also hurt and scared, and we can help by being, well, nice. Empathetic. Respectful of different perspectives. Do some good where you are, today.