What is happening in Ferguson, Missouri is terrible and stupid. That Robin Williams was so overcome with depression he took his own life was a shock and a travesty. Little Prince George walking to his mummy is absolutely adorable. What is happening in Iraq and Israel can only be described as a horror. The Ebola outbreak in Africa is absolutely frightening. Justin Beiber is an idiot.
All this and more can be found when we watch the news or look at our favorite information outlet’s news feed. We are supplied with terabytes of information at our fingertips and on our televisions and it gets to be too much. We are exposed to all this human suffering and triumphs, to grief and stupidity, to horror and cuteness each and every day, so much so that we’re becoming numb. We know so much more now than we did even ten years ago, learning new things at an incredible rate, yet the same problems we’ve had for generations persist. We have the ability to see the pain of millions, yet do nothing about it except tweet about how terrible it is and then we click onto the next story or check our instagram account.
The riots in Ferguson, Missouri were sparked by the killing of young Michael Brown by an unidentified police officer. A throw back to what we saw in LA twenty years ago, except that Rodney King didn’t lose his life and the riots have not spun completely out of control. Yet.
Our beloved comedian Robin Williams commits suicide after battling severe depression, yet is lambasted by the ignorant and cruel calling him a coward for taking the easy way out. A testament that so many of us don’t yet understand that mental illness is a real thing and that it’s okay to talk about it.
A terrible outbreak occurs in West Africa and the outrage isn’t that thousands are sick with a somewhat treatable disease who die because of their unfortunate luck to be born in a third world country, it’s that we have the gall to transport some of our own to be treated at home in Hospitals equipped for this sort of thing and “jeopardizing” the health of all us ‘Mericans. The fear mongering about this outbreak is almost as bad as when AIDS first came to America.
So much. We see so much. Yet we gain so little from it.
But there is hope. There are ways to help us change things. Let me tell you about one of my classes I taught from last year, I learned that among them I had two students living out of their parent’s cars; one of my students was being abused by her brother and she had to kick her own father out of the house, yet this same girl helped to build houses for the needy; three of my students lost their fathers and four more had father’s they’ve never known or had walked out on them; one of them saved her best friend from drowning; and one student received a heart transplant, however the donor was one of his friends who died in a hit and run accident. I didn’t have to learn these things about my students, but I need to; it helps me connect with them. I can’t give them much, I’m not a wealthy man and my free time is limited, but I gave them an opportunity to share with their class, and they did, and others realized they were not alone with their problems and they shared their accomplishments. More importantly, I’ve connected with these students and have felt more empathy and emotion for this group of 120 kids than I have at the suffering of nations, because I got to know them. And because I know them better, I better understand those whom I see on the news. I can identify more, which has inspired me to help out where I can.
Now, here’s your assignment from your dear old teacher that will help you reconnect to the real world around you. Are you ready? Here goes: Leave your biases and preconceptions at home, open your mind, then go out your front door, and spend some time with people. Go outside, find someone, and spend some time with them. Take your kids, spouse, and/or friend with you too. And don’t go hang out with your friends or family either, go connect with some new people. While you’re at it, turn off your phone as well. I don’t dare suggest you leave it at home, God forbid, just turn it off. We survived several eons without them, I think a few hours will not hurt you and you’ll get more out of your experience. You see, when you go out and interact with people, it actually fosters a connection. We begin to understand them, if we let it happen, which is why you must have an open mind. And when we understand them, even if it’s a little, we can actually feel and share in their joys, their pain, their triumphs, and their sorrow. The more people we understand, the more we may actually want to change the things we see around us.
So go out, open you mind and get to know some people, talk to your neighbors, help out at a shelter, volunteer, do something, dammit. Just turn off the T.V., power down the phone and experience some reality instead of watching “Reality TV.” You’ll thank me. Really.
If you’re still reading this, you’ve completely missed the point. Go on, get going!