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“Leave this world a little better than you found it.”
-Robert Baden-Powell 1941, Founder of the Scout Movement
Whenever possible, I usually try to look at life in a positive light. However, there are times when it is difficult to do so and it feels as if there is undoubtedly so much suffering in this world with so much of it beyond our control. One glance at the news and social media, and we are inundated with & exposed to so much negativity. Whatever the issue or subject may be, there is just so many people who are hurting and hurting each other. Unfortunately, the war we wage for health & wellness today is not only physical, there is much of the pain that remains unseen and undetected, sometimes for years or decades. This is not necessarily a post on mental illness, although that is certainly one way it manifests. This is for any of us who see the effects of all this suffering and wish there was a way to change the world, it can also be a reminder when we forget that there are people around us that are hurting. I don’t know about you, but it makes my heart hurt and it makes me wish there was something tangible and valid for me to do.* I believe that if we take stock and look within, there IS something we can all do.
We can be better. Better to ourselves. Better to each other.
These words from Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” comes to mind:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
If we want the world to change, it seems there is no better (pun intended) place to start than within ourselves. There is something to be said about being better to the natural world and our planet, which could be addressed at a later time. But what is most prevalent in my mind, especially lately, is about being better to each other. Most of us only have influence that reaches no further than our immediate family, circle of friends, and local community — if we all try even a few simple things, perhaps that is enough.
Be present – sometimes words are not needed, you just need to be there and be available
My husband and I have this thing that we do: whenever one of us has a bad day or if we have a fight or if we just need some love, we walk up to each other, take off our glasses (this is usually “the signal”), we embrace …and we just hug …for a few minutes. No words are necessary, and there’s no time limit. It lasts for however long it takes both of us to feel connected and grounded. It doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t give me more energy to tackle the rest of the day, it doesn’t cut my to-do list in half, it doesn’t get rid of the migraine I’d been enduring all day, it doesn’t do anything but make me feel better.
Don’t underestimate the difference your presence can make. Literally being present –not distracted, not multitasking, not half-listening– but 100% present can help make the connection and ground someone who needs it most. It doesn’t solve their problems, it doesn’t make the pain and scars go away, it doesn’t erase their past, it doesn’t vanquish their demons, but it just might make them feel better. Feel loved. Feel less alone. Feel stronger!
Be positive – if you do say something, choose kindness and shine your light
I love the song “Everybody’s got a story” by Amanda Marshall.* It reminds me not to make assumptions about people (which is hard to not do sometimes). That often times what we see is only what people want us to see, only a part of their bigger story. We have no idea what inner demons somebody could be fighting, unless we dig deeper than the image they choose to reveal, dig past the superficial. We all have walls that we put up to protect ourselves, don’t we? And they only come down for people we trust and love. We cannot get past these walls by force, we have to show kindness and understanding, we have to show we are worthy of trust.
We are surrounded by so much negativity, sometimes it’s easy to just fire back, instead of preventing it from spreading. Modern technology is an incredible thing! It can also be a terrible thing. Social media is a monster in itself — its relative anonymity and intangibility can make us brave and brazen, so we post things and say things we may never say or do in person. The danger to this is that we can easily forget there is a person on the receiving end. Conversely, even the simplest authentic kind words can shine a light in somebody’s dark day.
I wanted to send a shout-out to Jo Garfein, Co-Founder/Executive Director of Cancer Gets Lost. CGL channels fandom toward the greater good, raising money for cancer support charities through online & live auctions which features rare and autographed pop culture memorabilia. Jo has adopted the catchphrase #ChooseKindness, encouraging those she encounters to choose kindness when faced with negativity or bullying in their communities and online, whether it be sending messages of positivity and inspiration, or supporting and spreading the word for charities they support. Her twitter feed is a clear indication of the positivity and kindness she implores us to share with each other.
What we do or say affects other people, even if only in a minute way. Contrary to the saying, sticks and stones can break my bones, but words? …well, they can hurt too! We need to consider whether our words will be curses that chip away at someone’s resolve or affirmations that build them up.
Be patient – give the benefit of a doubt and give another chance
When we were younger, it was easy to be kind and good because we looked at the world with innocent eyes. As we get older, it is not so easy because we know people are not always kind or good, sometimes they can be quite the opposite. In our quest to be better, we may be tempted to think that others might take advantage of our newfound kindness, some will refuse us outright, still some others may tell us it is not even worth trying.
So what can WE do? We can still try to be better. We can be polite. We can be forgiving. We can extend a helping hand. We can say “hello” or “good morning”. We can ask “how are you?” or “can I help you?”. We can give the benefit of a doubt. We can be understanding. We can reach out. We can respond. We can be available. We can be spontaneous. We can spend time. We can spend money. We can visit. We can invite. We can make a phone call. We can send a birthday card. We can be positive and spread positivity.
I know from experience how a cloud of darkness can feel like a ton of bricks, and what a difference a little bit of light in our lives can make. We need to remember: for our fire to shine a bright light in the world, there must first be a spark. That spark can be the little things we do, and our perseverance to continue doing these things will fan the flame to shine brighter.
* This is by no means a paper on mental illness (or any illness for that matter); neither does it include opinions of medical professionals (I’ve avoided that on purpose); neither is this an extensive guide. Take it simply as my personal observations and personal goals in approaching this aspect in my particular circle of influence. I know there is more we can do and there are other avenues to affect change, but this is really about how we treat each other. When it comes to mental illness, I hope that this at least brings the discourse at a more positive light (as in “how can I help you?” instead of “what’s wrong with you?”), helps in erasing the stigma, and helps us help each other. The Bell Mental Health initiative supports an extensive range of programs to enhance mental health in every aspect of Canadian life, check it out at Bell Let’s Talk.
*Here is an interesting article I found while browsing the quote by Robert Baden-Powell (although he is not directly referenced): “On Leaving the World Better Than How I Found It” by Chris Castiglione, which also has some great take-aways
***Some of the lyrics of Amanda Marshall’s “Everybody’s got a story”
So you can see my bra, underneath my shirt,
Watch the wind, underneath my skirt,
But that ain’t the picture it’s just a part,
Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.
See my eyes, don’t see what I see.
Touch my tongue, don’t know what tastes good to me.
It’s the human condition that keeps up apart,
Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.
Now who can read the mind of the red-headed girl next door,
Or the taxi driver who just dropped you off,
Or the, or the classmate that you ignore.
Don’t assume everything on the surface is what you see,
‘Cause that classmate just lost her mother,
And that taxi driver’s got a Ph-d.
I’m so tired of the fear
That weighs us down with wrong assumptions
A broken heart’s a natural function
So dig deep,
Deeper than the image that you see,
Lift up, feel, and let your true self breathe,
Show the world the beauty underneath