Daily reports of hate-motivated violence, divisive rhetoric, threats to long-held racial, religious, and gender liberties, along with irreparable attacks on the Earth, have led me to limit screen exposure. It’s not an effort to hide from reality. It’s just that discerning what is real has become so complicated, especially when people claim that because they think or believe something is true, that makes it true. Not only true, but fact.
Lately, it feels like I’ve been transported to an altered state of existence, reminiscent of the sequence in “It’s A Wonderful Life” when George Bailey wished that he’d never been born and finds himself in Pottersville. He discovers the people he knew and loved have degenerated into the worst versions of themselves, becoming bitter, greedy, and cruel. Lining the streets of the once charming town are businesses catering to all manner of human vice.
In a world without George Bailey, Mr. Potter managed to destroy every shred of decency and humanity that had characterized Bedford Falls. In the absence of George Bailey, Potter capitalized on people’s fears, distrust, ignorance, anger, and desperation, thereby establishing complete dependence on him. Without the conscience, courage, empathy, and lovingkindness of George Bailey, Potter’s quest for power and control went unchecked.
Whereas George looked for the best in people, appealing to their strengths, and inspiring them to discover these in themselves, Potter relied on people’s insecurities, preying upon their weaknesses, which more readily served his selfish purposes. George discovered that in the presence of genuine caring and relationship, people strive to live up to your highest expectations of them. Potter preferred to operate in the absence of genuine caring and relationship counting on people to be satisfied to live down to his lowest expectations.
These two opposing approaches to wielding personal influence have been readily observed over the past year. What is abundantly clear is that if we allow ourselves to become disillusioned, when faced with disappointment, it is easy to slip into self pity and despair. By doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable to those who would guide us down a destructive path.
This is not the time to retreat into darkness. Now’s the time to rise up, determined to stay alert, be smart, take action, and work harder to create the conditions necessary for the preservation of a healthy future for our children, ourselves, and our planet. We have reached a critical time in our history when we must choose between what is best and what is easy. In choosing to do what is best, we must think globally while living locally. We must live in the present while being mindful of the future.
When my younger son became overwhelmed by challenging situations, he attempted to alleviate anxiety by declaring, “I don’t care!” Instead of trying to convince him that he did indeed care or excusing him from trying, I would say, “I guess I’ll have to care enough for both of us until you feel strong enough to care again.” This response, combined with guided practice and encouragement, generally invited a spirit of cooperation rather than antagonism. Eventually he felt confident enough to resume caring.
It’s easier not to care. It relieves any sense of personal responsibility for improving the situation. But not caring creates a false sense of security that can be dangerous. Not caring leads people to do and fail to do things that may have devastating consequences for all of us, such as pollution, climate change, food waste. Therefore, it is necessary to care more and do more to make up for those who choose not to care. Hopefully, in time, they will find the courage to care.
Anger has become the prevailing emotion in our current social climate. Anger is an emotion that appears powerful and strong because it is often loud, even violent. But anger is based in fear, ignorance, insecurity, and emptiness leading to hate, cruelty, and division. Anger may be a strong emotion, but it is not an emotion of strength. Love is an emotion of strength. Love comes from a place of courage, awareness, confidence, and fulfillment lending to growth, compassion, and unity.
It’s easy to hate. You don’t have to give up anything to hate. Loving is much harder because you have to give something up. You have to give up putting yourself first. Love is powerful. Love can be fierce, as well as tender. Love is patient and kind. It sacrifices and protects. It challenges wrongdoing and defies injustice. Love endures hardship and dares to hope. People yearn for love in their lives. They want to be loved fiercely. Choose to love, in hopes that it will serve as a beacon guiding others to discover the power of love within themselves.
George Bailey discovered he had a wonderful life, not because of what he had, but because of what he gave. The care and love he unselfishly shared inspired hope, giving others the courage to care and love as well. George’s wealth was measured in devoted family and friends. May we all seek such riches in the New Year.