When I returned from my journey to Cuba and Mexico I was again reminded of how very disturbing the daily news is and how easy it is to slide into a sense of hopelessness. How can anything we do really make a difference or even matter? Are we destined to obliterate thousands of years of years of a rich, multi-cultural world heritage and millions of years of remarkably the diverse evolution of animal and plant species because of our inability to live in tolerance and peace with one another? Or because of power and greed? Does the end indeed justify the means?
I remember talking about this with my father when I was a teenager, and even later, as an adult. He said that warfare and suffering were part of the human condition, and that while it might appear that the world, as we know it would end, it wouldn't. After all, he posited, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse must have felt the world was coming to an end. Or the people in Java must have believed that the world was ending when Krakatoa blew up. He assured me that the world is a big place, and that I shouldn't be so concerned.
Despite his attempted sage advice, I was never completely convinced that we would survive as a species if we continued on the path of destruction to the planet and to one another. And, in some respects this concern is even greater now that our world has become an incredibly small place and the web of our interactions are so inextricably intertwined. With the changing of the world's climate and the increased shortage of potable water in many regions, we are facing the very real potential of ending life as we have known it on the planet. A truly paralyzing thought. And yet, we continue to go about our lives, using denial as a survival tactic to get through the day, some of us turning our backs entirely, some of us complaining but not knowing what to do to stop issues like global warming or the specter of war.
Perhaps what I'm putting forth here this is another form of denial; I hope not. I believe that we can make a difference and enjoy the specialness of each day if we refocus the lens of our reality to the shift that is occurring in the world. Most heartfelt actions, whether on the part of an individual or an organized group, don't normally make news, at least not the front pages of daily newspapers or the lead story on TV. But they do happen, and they are happening everywhere.
Don't get me wrong about news. I feel it's extremely important to be informed as well as to read between the lines to find out what really is happening in the world. It's critical that we be conscious of the issues in developing countries as well as our own; that's why I read the daily paper and listen to news reports. But I want to know more. To know about the hopeful news, the baby steps so many of us take each day to affect positive change.
On December 24, 2006, Don Aucoin wrote in the Boston Globe, "Don't look now, but an epidemic of niceness is sweeping the land…a countervailing phenomenon has arisen in the form of movements, Web sites and organizations devoted to accentuating the positive, to look for the silver lining, to seeing the glass as perpetually half-full."
He goes on to say that former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan has launched a good-news Web site whose organizing principle is "One radical idea: the world is a good place." www.DarynKagan.com. Another news site dedicated only to upbeat stories it considers underplayed by the media is www.happynews.com.
Perhaps you've heard of Juan Mann, an Australian who founded a "Free Hugs" campaign in Boston. Go to U-tube to find a video of Juan's campaign; it's heart-warming. There's also a San Francisco based Web site, Iskip.com that encourages people to skip. If you haven't skipped for a while you'll see that it makes you feel a little silly but then very happy. I'm a big proponent of skipping, having personally taught a number of small children how to do it. How can you be sad while skipping? Kim Corbin, a book publicist, founded Iskip.com because, she said, "It's so easy to be overwhelmed. We've got war. We've got terrorism. It's a really intense time…A lot of people think I'm crazy for wanting to skip…I think it's crazy to be inhibited and not be joyful and feel like you can't do something because other people are judging you."
There's a lot of power in being upbeat and happy. Try smiling at people on the street. You'll be interested at the reactions. Most people "get it," and smile back. I always smile at people and, I occasionally get some cold stares, but it's rare. The Dalai Lama says that smiling at people very day is a great act of kindness as it eases suffering.
Consider www.HappyNews.com, started by Byron Reese. CEO of PageWise Inc. publishes positive stories from wire services and freelance writers. Reese says that the site now gets more than a million hits a month! "There's just a hunger for it." He says that he believes that 90% of what happens in the world is upbeat, yet the traditional media focus primarily on the 10% that is not. A case in point: When General Motors closed an auto plant and laid off thousands of workers, HappyNews.com wrote about the opening of a Toyota factory in North Carolina. Both events were equally newsworthy, but the GM story was the media's first choice. Is this about misery loving company?
Is it fear that drives us to find the positive side to life? Certainly fear can be a driving factor in our feeling paralyzed or helpless. I wonder, however, if fear is the mitigating factor or if it's anger at the negativity or determination to look for that which acts as a counter-response to fear. I think that's true for me. Fear is an emotion that cripples us in so many ways. It certainly drives denial, that pulling-the-covers-over-our-heads response to the huge challenges that affect us all individually as well as the world at large.
The worse things get, the more determined I am to find the antidote. Which reminds me of something I read many years ago. I once read that in the natural world wherever there is a poisonous plant or animal, an antidote also exists nearby. I was struck by this possibility. If this holds true in the natural world, couldn't it also be true in the human-created world of suffering and pain?
When I was very young I spent a good deal of my winters in bed with bronchial infections. While in some ways it was a drag to be stuck in bed, it also allowed me the luxury of reading everything I could get my hands on as well as time to ponder what I read. My childhood games incorporated what I had read about in books by or about people like Pearl Buck, Albert Schweitzer, Helen Keller and others. I was so impressed by these people that I wanted my life to be somehow like theirs. I spent hours rescuing my dolls from disasters in faraway exotic locations, feeding them and nursing them back to health. While I didn't have a specific "career path" in mind at that age, working with people in a variety of contexts has certainly been my life path, one that has grown increasingly strong over the years.
Today I spent a couple of hours visiting roughly one hundred Web sites that have been created by social entrepreneurs actively working toward change. There has been a week-long a contest at www.NetSquared.org to choose 20 great projects. Then, on May 2007, 350 members of the NetSquared community are invited to the Cisco campus to participate in accelerating these great projects that utilize the technologies, tools and communities of the social web to create societal impact in a sustainable fashion. They will accelerate these projects by providing cash awards from the newly created Technology Innovation Fund and by connecting them with funders, developers and other people and organizations that can help the projects attain the next level. The Global Women's Leadership Network (GWLN) that, with the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, sponsor the Women Leaders for the World, is one of the projects nominated.
I was really impressed by the diverse selection of programs as well as the creativity, the innovation and the relevance of these projects. While each project "speaks from the heart" I chose only some of the sites to include in this particular blog as you'd be reading for days if I included them all. It was not easy to choose which groups to vote for, well, with the exception of the GWLN. Here they are:
NABUUR, www.nabuur.com is an internet platform where villages in developing countries get direct assistance. Online volunteers help create whatever is needed in 150 villages now, and help in 10,000 villages soon. You can sign up to provide the expertise that a village needs without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Isn't that a cool use of the Internet?
Pulsewire is a new offshoot of World Pulse Magazine, www.worldpulsemagazine.com, an online publication about women and children transforming the world. Pulsewire is a new project that allows women and children to write their stories in their own words to share with the world.
The Emancipation Network addresses the issue of human trafficking, a serious worldwide problem that happens to be active in the United States, something we'd rather not know about. www.madebysurvivors.com sells products to support The Emancipation Network.
Another site that addresses human trafficking, Prevent Human Trafficking, www.phi-ngo.org, uses digital media to educate and empower by making human-to-human connections and showcasing amazing, sustainable solutions that anyone can be part of as a new micro-philanthropist or activist.
The Anti-Genocide Community empowers anti-genocide activists with the tools for community-based education, user-generated content and strong shared connections. The
anti-genocide community will pool the collective knowledge of a growing movement for change. http://www.genocideintervention.net/
Dream Fish, www.dreamfish.org, offers "fertile waters for change makers worldwide." It's an international site with a collective blog where individuals can post information about their work for change. There's also a site, www.worldsbiggestproblems.com, where people can work together through online "chat groups" to look for solutions to critical issues.
100 Innovators, www.innovatorz.org, trains volunteers to produce and distribute online media for award winning social entrepreneurs. They say, "This decade, the impacts of leading social entrepreneurs will explode. It's the world's most important story, and Innovatorz.org will tell it." We'll be waiting to hear!
Freecycle.org's vision is to create a global gift economy in an entirely nonprofit online community at Freecycle.org. They make it easier to give something away than to throw it away on a globally local scale. Freecycle is a sort of free eBay or cyber curbside. This site has been a boon for teachers who struggle to get the supplies they need for their classrooms.
International Networks of Victims of Terrorism and War, www.peacefultommorow.org,
seeks to unite victims of political violence, war and terrorism to amplify the voices of victims speaking out for nonviolence and to create grassroots structures which support them.
Help International Telemedicine Humanitarian Emergency Mobile Medical Clinic Network, www.disasterlogistics.org, is a telemedicine-based online community of physicians, financial donors and emergency personnel bringing advanced medical assistance to disaster zones.
FamilyFarmed.org, www.familyfarmed.org, is a revolutionary system connecting consumers and trade buyers with a network of organic farmers and artisanal food producers. Consumers meet their farmers and re-establish connections with their food, community, and the land.
The Hub, www.witness.org. WITNESS is a human rights organization rooted in the principle that “a picture is worth a 1,000 words.” By partnering with local organizations around the globe, WITNESS empowers human rights defenders to use video as a tool to shine a light on those most affected by human rights violations. Since its founding in 1992 by musician and advocate Peter Gabriel, WITNESS has partnered with more than 200 human rights groups in 50 countries, bringing often untold stories and unheard voices to the attention of key decision makers, the media, and general public to create lasting change.
This last is a very powerful site! I watched some footage on the devastation an ethnic minority group in Myanmar (Burma) has suffered. These are things that we don't hear about often in the news. I highly recommend everyone visit this site.
So there you have it. Some of the sites I've listed appear to be "downers" as they deal with the harsh underbelly of the world. What makes these sites so critically important, however, is that they are actually addressing these issues. Human trafficking. Survivors of war and torture. Where could people go even ten years ago to provide help or find a network of support? There is hope.
In closing, I want to tell you about Victor Villasenor, the author of "Burro Genius." Villasenor came to an agricultural city in my county that is filled with children of immigrants, many of whom have worked in the fields with their families. The son of immigrants, Villasenor was forced to sit in the back of the classroom with other Mexicans and with blacks and was loudly and frequently admonished, "English only." Between that and struggling with dyslexia, he regarded himself as a "stupid Mexican." He came to terms with his anger and wrote a book about his experiences. Ten years and 265 rejections later, he sold his first book, "Macho," a coming of age story about a Mexican immigrant and the United Farm Worker struggle. He has since published several more books about the lives of his family in Mexico and the United States. He said that, "If these books had existed when I was young, my life would have been different.
Villasenor told a spell-bound audience of mostly Latino immigrant teens that our problem isn't human nature but the way we have related history. "Fighting wars is less than 2 percent of human experience. It's just that we've kept track of it." He urged the students to "Go out and make the world a better place."
We have choices in our lives. We can feel paralyzed by fear, we can hide in denial or we can get active and affect change. If we choose to live in possibility, to find something that speaks to us as a way to make a difference, we can make that difference. I encourage all of us to find something that moves us enough to heal ourselves and our planet. If we get active, our children and grandchildren just might have a chance to live in a better world.