Lately it seems examples of courage are swirling all around us.
Tarana Burke, who spoke not so long ago at Gonzaga, has become a celebrated activist for starting the “Me Too” movement – offline, at first – by letting young women know that she too, had endured sexual assault. She had been raped multiple times growing up, but kept that painfully quiet until she realized others needed to know they weren’t alone. Now the whole world knows her deeply personal story. And an entire culture is changing because of it.
Twice in recent months we’ve seen our high schoolers walk out of class to protest school shootings and advocate for stricter gun control, even in the face of criticism from the politicians and celebrities they may have once looked up to. Because of these teenagers, some elected officials and businesses are finally listening.
Just last month it was announced that Spokane’s own Mandy Manning of Ferris High School was deservingly named USA Teacher of the Year. She works with refugee and immigrant students and has said she’s going to use this award as a way to champion unity.
Let me give one last example, although I can think of a hundred more. “Snap Judgment,” a storytelling podcast, recently aired a feature on the Eubank family, which voluntarily helps those under attack from the Islamic State. Through the program Free Ranger Burma, this Christian family of five lives in Syria, Iraq, Burma – wherever they’re called – to help IS victims through medical care, protection, education and a variety of other ways.
We need to hear these stories because it’s easy to become discouraged by the dominating headlines we see every day. You know the ones. Chemical attacks on the Syrian people. Constant turmoil and drama at the White House. Violent crimes happening in our own Spokane community.
My students tell me all the time that the news is depressing. And they’re right. It can be.
It’s only natural that hearing these troubling soundbites over and over again can negatively impact our attitudes and emotions. I hear the pessimism in my friends’ voices. I can read the demoralization on their faces and the anger in the social media posts. And, like them, these headlines have me doubting if I can make a difference. And worse, at times they have me losing faith in humanity. All religions teach that having a sour frame of mind can be toxic.
I think Christian author Joyce Meyer was right when she said, “You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.”
Through mindfulness and practice, I believe we do have the ability to manage negative attitudes when they arise. Controlling our attitude can make the difference between confidence and courage or fear and despair. Sometimes, for me, that means being intentional about seeking out good news, like the stories about the Eubanks, the protesting high schoolers and these other everyday heroes. Not only are they an inspiration for me to be better in my everyday life, but they’re a reminder that we can, and do, make a difference.
I don’t yet have the courage to tell my #MeToo story. I don’t have the valor to go abroad and fight terrorists. That’s OK though, because our contributions don’t need to be as extraordinary as causing a global social media movement or risking our lives every day. The small things really do matter.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” Vincent Van Gogh once said.
I hope we all can draw on each other’s courage to find a way to dig deep and find the fortitude to speak out and step up when something stirs us. It will matter to someone, to our community and just maybe to the entire world.
Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism teacher and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.
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