A few weeks ago, a one-time colleague messaged me on Facebook. He wanted me to know there were lots of you out there who are with me on the crazy things I say here. Some of you, he said, aren’t in a position to say so, at least not as out loud as I do, but you get it. I know. I was once in that spot too and had a secret identity where I could ramble on. Wasn’t supposed to do that either, but I did anyway, just because.
I’m not saying I think you should do that too, although you certainly could if you wanted (just watch out for Facebook’s fake name policy). My friend and former colleague, though, asked what those of you who can’t be as outspoken as I am could do in these trying times.
I told him what I’m about to tell the rest of you. You’re already doing hundreds of things to make a difference. Because you “get it,” every single thing you do is influenced by what you “get.”
Every time you smile at a stranger, regardless of that stranger’s race, religion, or whatever, you make a difference. Every time you shed a tear over some senseless killing, you make a difference. Every time you lend a hand to a friend, you make a difference. Every time you listen, really listen, you make a difference. Every time you don’t laugh at a racist, homophobic, trans or sexist “joke,” every time you congratulate a colleague on a job well done, every time you thank someone for help they’ve given you, every time you walk out your front door unafraid, every time you open your eyes and see the beauty around you, you make a difference.
And every time you make a difference, you create change.
It’s an ugly world out there these days. It’s damn frustrating, to see the same ridiculous things over and over and over, the same divisiveness, the same anger, the same hatred, the same fear. If I could snap my fingers and all that would majickly vanish, believe you me I would. But I can’t, you can’t, nobody can. In fact, we cannot change one single person, with one single exception – we can change ourselves. And interestingly enough, making changes within ourselves creates a culture of change and vanquishes the culture of stagnation. That happens for one simple reason: We are human.
We are human, not cyborgs programmed to respond this way to that situation and that way to this situation, although it sure does look like that quite often. And most of the time it seems easier to go through life like that – uploading our programming from politicians and news channels and regressive family members and then regurgitating it whole back out into the world. But we are human. We can think for ourselves. It may seem difficult at first, but we can trust ourselves to know when to act and when not to act, to know what is a threat and what isn’t, and, most importantly, to know that every other person on this planet is human just like us.
Do some humans make dangerous and frightening decisions? Hell, yes. Sometimes we do too. Sometimes our closest family members, our closest friends do. But here’s the beauty of being human: We can see those people individually, see their decisions as theirs alone, and then come to our own conclusions about what happened and what we can or cannot do about it. And we can do that very, very simply.
And in that pause, listen. Drop your personal storyline and listen. If what you hear makes you uncomfortable, that’s ok. We’re not supposed to comfortable all the time. That isn’t life; it’s a make-believe land where everything and everyone are the same and nothing and no one ever change. I don’t know about you, but I get a laugh when I hear folks complaining about “flip-flopping.” Show me someone who has never changed their opinion on something and I’ll show you someone who’s stuck. Not where I want to be.
It would sure be nice to create some monumental change that ended war, ended a culture based on fear of other. That’s highly unlikely. And besides, real change comes in incremental – and small – steps that can become larger strides as we become more confident in who we are as humans. And those small steps start with how we relate with other living beings. What is society, anyway, but a simple relationship writ large?
It’s slow, I know. But it snowballs. Starting with you and me, then spreading to everyone we know, everyone with whom we come into contact. It grows. It blossoms. It forms the basis of a strong and good society. It doesn’t stop anyone from behaving in dangerous and frightening ways, but it stops us from reacting in-kind and snowballing less virtuous behavior.
In that way, every breath we take makes a difference.