I’ve been thinking a lot about the world we live in and despite my usual inexorable optimism, my thoughts have been, well, kinda bleak. It’s been weighing me down for a bit so I put finger to keyboard and let it out, reflecting on 3 seperate experiences I’ve recently had. With that said, my usual bright&shiny self bubbles up at the end (I promise).
Thought Trigger 1: I took the LIRR home from a work event a little while ago. At the end of the event, we released an idea for a campaign that we’ve been working on for an organization that works to empower women globally. Interesting, insightful conversation ensued. Women’s empowerment is my jam so I loved it, and headed home high on hopes for a better tomorrow.
I stepped off the train around 10:30pm. There were no cabs. As I was changing into sneakers to walk home in, a voice resounded from the darkness shouting, “Yo! You single?” Unsure as to whether or not I was its intended target and feeling vulnerable in the dark, I ignored it. There was no follow up so I began to walk.
“You f*cking snob. Yeah you, you dumb b*tch – go ahead. Ignore me,” I hear from the shadows. I turn around and see some twenty-something guy 50 feet or so behind me. I take my phone out and frantically dial a friend. “Yeah go hide in your f*cking phone b*tch, you f*cking snob. What, I don’t deserve your response? Slut.” No answer and he’s still following. I immediately dial a second friend. She picks up on the first ring and I start talking loudly. Next thing I know, the voice drifts away and he’s nowhere to be seen.
Shaken by the jarring juxtaposition of these two experiences, I cried much of my way home.
I recounted the story to a friend the next day. “I’m so sorry,” she responds. “As bad as it is, you get used to that kind of thing in the city but you don’t expect it in Long Island.” She’s right. You do get used to that kind of thing in the city.
Thought Trigger 2: I’ve been seeing a guy from Caracas, Venezuela. If you don’t already know, Venezuela as a whole is in pretty horrific condition right now and is currently one of the world’s most violent countries. You cannot travel without a body guard. Kidnapping and murder are normal. He yearns for a home that is stained a deeper red with every passing day.
There’s a part of him that’s excited for my journey to Mozambique. “It’s a good life decision,” he said, with only the slightest hint of unwillingness. He’s nervous though. “You don’t know violence,” he snapped in a moment of slipped frustration. “You have no idea, you’re completely ignorant of what it’s like because you were born and raised in America. Life elsewhere is cheap, Paige. It holds no value.”
He is 100% right. I do not know violence. I have no idea what it is like for everything to be taken from me. For every foundation and structure I rely on to collapse around me. To be persecuted by my own government for things over which I have no control. To hold my tongue for fear of lethal retribution. To wake up and wonder who will die today.
Millions of people do. Millions of people are trying to escape it, from Syria, from South Sudan, from Afghanistan, from Venezuela. Other nations have to make the impossible decision to say yes you are welcome to seek refuge here, or no you are not. We don’t have the capacity. Our people are scared of you. We’re in the middle of perhaps the worst global refugee crisis in all of history.
There’s political unrest in Mozambique right now. There are no travel zones within the country. It’s still technically safe to visit and is a PC-Okay zone, but it’s starting to hit me. Violence, unrest, conflict – they’re real. The characters triggering news headlines are alive. Each count on the death toll is a human being just like me. I’m not concerned about my security or safety in Moz, but am aware that I’m purposefully choosing to abandon my intentionally designed cushy lifestyle – total safety, a functional democracy (with or without Trump in the picture), opportunity and guaranteed security.
Thought Trigger 3: I was reading a section of The Skimm recounting a car bomb in maybe Baghdad. I breezed over it. Another car bomb, another 26 people killed by extremists. Jeez it’s so tragic. Someone’s gotta do something about ISIS.
Immediately, my mind flashed back to two years ago. I can picture myself sitting in bed, texting my friend. “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!” we incredulously begged of each other. Terrorist bombings and domestic gun violence were – almost out of the blue – becoming alarmingly common. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, etc., were becoming increasingly familiar names. With each new attack, we’d text each other in shock and horror.
Now, it’s just another normal day. Now those attacks are another line item in the news to skim over. It made me wonder – is the world in worse shape than it has been in a long time? Will our grandchildren learn about the early 2000’s and wonder how – between the Middle East, North Korea, Sub Saharan Africa, bloody Latin American states, overstretched European states and our climate crisis – Earth stayed in one piece? Or am I just older, just more empathetic, meeting people from new places and consuming more news than before? Has the world always been exactly like this (with less sophisticated weaponry and technology) and mankind simply perseveres?
I have some thoughts on all of this. Just a few simple reactions.
- It’s just as important to focus on fixing things locally as it is to focus on fixing things internationally. Local can start with introspection, local can start with my family. The most important thing we can do is be compassionate and kind to each other, to treat every person like a person.
- These problems are so damn big and old as time. What in the world is the US to do? We constantly criticize our government for every little thing but our leaders are human. They’re dealing with impossible problems. My heart goes out to those responsible for making the big decisions. Also, we in America are so freaking lucky that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I’ve got some thinking to do around the type of change I want to help make in the world and what steps I need to take to get there.
- I constantly feel guilty. I feel guilty to have won the lottery of birth, to take for granted human rights that so many deserve and so desperately desire. I feel compelled to help them in that quest, but how do you make change if you don’t understand their realities, their perspective? Hence, the Peace Corps. Then I feel guilty for worrying my loved ones by intentionally putting myself in way of insecurity. By leaving a country my grandparents sacrificed so much to get me to before I even existed. I’m starting to understand that guilt like this is a waste of energy.
- There’s hope because so many people are so great. All over the world, people come together to figure out how to make the world a better place for thousands of total strangers. People who have never left the States wonder how to crowdfund enough money to get kids in South East Asia to school. A group of people with lives of their own to worry about ask how can we create a campaign that will grant millions of women in Africa access to feminine care. Someone stops and asks a homeless person on the corner by his office how her day has been. People every day get together to brainstorm, create, and implement solutions that will hopefully make a total stranger’s life better simply because at the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re all in this together.
And if that last paragraph wasn’t enough optimism to balance out the other darker thoughts, this week’s TED Radio Hour Podcast was – in perfect timing – The Case for Optimism, and it was pretty damn fantastic.