How do you keep your faith in humanity intact?
Or is it already far from intact, tattered around the edges, threatening to shred beyond repair at the slightest tug?
Or maybe you’re the type who doesn’t mess around in murky, fast-moving waters, opting instead to keep both feet planted where the pool is clear, chlorinated and ankle-deep, leaving no chance of teetering off balance.
Unraveling threads? Contaminated river? Shallow pool?
Mixed metaphors seem appropriate when we talk about the acts of inhumanity we human beings commit or allow others to commit without consequence. From the Syrian slaughter that is getting a lot of attention these days to the problem of gender violence plaguing every corner of the earth yet does not seem to garner enough attention any day, we homo sapiens are constantly challenging, confronting and perplexing each other with extreme abuses of power.
Why is the problem of violence a cross-cultural downfall among men? Is it because aggression is in their genes and that they need to have an outlet of acceptable expression, such as sports? Is it because violence is socially accepted in many cultures? UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet says, “As a young girl in Chile, I heard a common saying: ‘quien te quiere, te aporrea’ (who loves you, beats you). I recall a woman say: ‘That’s just the way it is.”
Perhaps this conundrum has its roots in us not knowing or trusting our power. If we knew and trusted our power to do good in equal measure as our power to do harm, would men, even those in the most desperate of situations, resort to violence as readily? I don’t know. But I would like to think that someone who has the ability to strike a blow with his bare fist also has the ability to connect with another through a warm embrace. (If you feel like smiling, watch this video of free hugs in San Francisco.)
Faith in humanity? I grapple with this. Some days, mine gets caught in newly-sharpened scissors, cutting huge holes and fraying those delicate edges. Some segments of the proverbial tunnel are pitch-black and the most one can do is tough it out inch by inch. Sooner or later a ray of light will appear. Once again, here we go with the mixed metaphors.
Clearly, I don’t have the answers. But I’d like to share a couple of stories that remind me that, as much as my eyes tear over the cold, cruel acts human beings commit, it is still human beings who warm my heart.
A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending an inspiring, love-filled memorial celebration. A string quartet played the most heartfelt, stirring music; each note played with care. The reverend, ravishing and regal, delivered the most beautiful words of blessing and commendation, as though the words came directly from the heavens and into the packed chapel through her. A passage from one of my favorite books, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, filled the room as we all remembered a friend’s life with fondness. What made this memorial extraordinary was the words of praise given by our friend’s loving partner. Through memories, humor and stories, he not only honored the wonderful life of this special man, but he also encapsulated so much of what is good about being human — to love, to be loved, to do what you love, to grow, to work at being great at something, to dance, to laugh, to make and honor a commitment. There were tears, yes. After all, I am an emotional creature. But, ironic though it may seem, his eulogy inspired me and affirmed for me so many of the amazing gifts we receive through this one precious life.
The other story I’d like to share happened yesterday. I was sitting in my office when my phone rang. A man on the line called to thank my friend. My friend, let’s call her S, a strong, progressive leader unafraid to speak her heart and mind, has been in the news lately and this man on the other line read a recent story about her. Thanks for what? For something S did forty plus years ago. In the summer of ’69, S took care of a teen mother-to-be, raised by strict Catholic parents who disapproved of her pregnancy. S had this young woman live in her home until she gave birth. The man on the phone is that teen mother’s son who was given up for adoption and was placed in a home with loving parents in New York. He called to thank S for taking care of his biological mother who might have made a different decision had S not been there by this young teen’s side. S’s long history of kindness, compassion and generosity and this man’s expression of gratitude make me hopeful that humanity’s redeeming qualities, somehow, may be enough to outweigh our flaws.
How do you nurture your faith in humanity?