There hasn’t been a lot to celebrate in the news lately. Perhaps, just like me, the state of the world has left you feeling angry, helpless, and sad. Perhaps you have been wanting to make things better, but the task feels so overwhelming that you end up engaging in a Facebook comment fight, hiding your head under the covers, or drinking more than usual. Because I haven’t known what to do, I have found myself disassociating in a variety of ways. It all just seems like too much.
But then I remember that I do not have this luxury. When I choose apathy, I choose to give power to the victimizers. I was reminded of this while listening to the wisdom of the late Elie Wiesel on the podcast, What it Takes. Wiesel was a survivor of the Holocaust and he decided he could not remain silent about the atrocities he witnessed. Ten years after the war, he wrote Night, which I read for the first time in the 5th grade. It made a lasting impression on my life.
Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize and dedicated his life to standing up for victims of hate around the world from Darfur to the former Yugoslavia. The podcast is a collection of several speeches he gave at the Academy of Achievement. When I listen to his words, I am simultaneously broken open, disarmed by truth, and given the deepest challenge of raising my own moral standards. If this man, who had experienced the unfathomable, can spend his life mining for hope each day and standing up for victims of violence, then I, an American woman, born into safety and privilege, have to remain aware, engaged, and active. I have no excuse. The Nobel Committee called Wiesel “a messenger for mankind, one who had worked for peace, atonement, and human dignity.”
Wiesel said,”If I remain silent, I may help my own soul, but because I do not help other people, I poisen my soul. Silence never helps the victim. It only helps the victimizer. Faith? I think of the killer and I lose all faith. But then I think of the victim and I’m inundated with compasssion.”
So what can I do?
I can ardently speak in myriad ways which are unique to my life story. I can share what I have learned through healing trauma of my own by being resilient and keeping my eyes and my heart open to the experiences of other people. My faith comes back in droves when I think of how I can be an example to women of what it’s like to reemerge into the world with strength when I once listened to messages of emotional and psychological abuse and felt like pieces of myself were being eaten away by someone else. I can mentor women who have lost all sense of worth and teach them skills to build self-esteem and confidence. I can continue auditioning and acting despite the entertainment industry’s culture of ageism and sexism. I can share yoga and meditation with cancer patients, mothers who have lost their children, women with eating disorders, and others as a way to ease anxiety, process grief, find joy, and heal. I can devote my time and attention to news stories which highlight the people who are creating positive change and I can use my anger as fuel to continue to stay passionate about holding higher standards for my life and this world. I can educate myself about politics without giving in to the fear mongering. I can vote. And just like that, I am filled with a sense of direction. I have been given a unique path and a specific story, and so have you. What a sad story it is if we do not use it to affect even the smallest positive change.
Wisel said “every hour is grace and I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile” and “life is not a fist. Life is an open hand waiting for some other hand to enter it.”
I still feel frustrated and small in the grand scheme of things sometimes, and inspirational quotes seem cliche when I see them on Facebook or in an office building. But if I give in to that cynicism, then I am discounting the life of a great man, discounting the power of my own impact, and closing my eyes to a vast mystery of faith. I’ve always done better on a team because there is something to fight for, a greater collective cause, and friends I care about. So, proverbially, I put my hand in yours. Let’s keep trying for a better world. We are all made of the same stuff and we have a choice. I will if you will.
Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings be happy, peaceful, and free, and may my actions contribute to their happiness, peace, and freedom.
Below are links to the podcast cited and an organization dedicated to sharing uplifting stories about humanity.
Love What Matters: Where do you go when you want to read about foster kids being adopted, military heroes returning to their families, a dad opening a box to learn he’s now a grandfather, or a first wedding dance that doctors thought would never happen? These are the things that matter, and we celebrate them every day.
Drawing by Clara Cabrera Miquel