The last few weeks have been, in many ways, the kind of weeks I love most – full of big projects and big risks, tight deadlines and public spotlights. They have found me in Capitol hallways and hearing rooms, but also in community centers and church basements, sitting on cold metal folding chairs sipping countless cups of lukewarm coffee and listening to the true stories of people’s lives, told so openly and earnestly that they make my own fastidiously constructed narrative feel like a fable. I love the feeling of momentum and purpose, love the moments of commitment and connection when groups of people decide to link arms and take up a cause, love when the young ones get that first notion that their lives could mean something bigger than themselves, love when the elders rouse their tired and battle-weary bones for one more good fight. It’s times like these when there’s no denying how blessed I am to be living this life and doing this work, when my eyes are clear and my heart is full.
As they always tend to be, though, the highs have been counterbalanced by lows – in the unfortunately coupled forms of cynical calculation and petty undercutting – sometimes even by those I’ve stood with for years in their own struggles. What I’ve come to understand is that the perception of scarcity – the notion that if someone else gets something you won’t get yours – can make people act in some really terrible ways sometimes. And lest you think I’m climbing up on my self-righteous soapbox, dear reader, let me assure you that I have been this person, too, slicing and carving my way to “victory”, leaving the tattered remains of relationships along the way.
It’s not difficult to see why this is such a pervasive pattern, not just in politics and public life, but also in our most intimate relationships. Suspicion, dysfunction, and competition are the three core principles upon which most of our modern entertainment is based. They seep into our collective consciousness whether we know it or not. They turn us into people who value kindness yet revel in degradation. It’s no wonder we start to believe that the only way to succeed is to destroy each other in the process.
I don’t believe it’s too late for us, though, and I don’t believe this is really who we are – and I certainly don’t believe we were meant to live this way.
So, here’s what I’m going to try to do starting today: I’m going to believe the best about people. I’m going to believe that most people, if given the chance, will choose to do good in the world. I’m going to believe that the versions of ourselves who give comfort to strangers and pray for people we’ve never even met during times of crisis are stronger than the ones who tear each other down for our own gains. I’m going to believe that our collective humanity is bigger than our individual insecurity.
I’m going to believe these things even if I’m proven wrong time and again. Even if I get taken advantage of and called naive. Even if I get hurt.
Of all of the mini-revolutions I’ve tried to start over the years, this is probably the only one that really matters in the end – the one without spotlights or strategy, notoriety or name. It won’t require endless coalition meetings or multimillion dollar budgets or reams of research on the opposition. It won’t even require us to sign a pledge or a petition.
But it will require us to believe the best about each other – stubbornly, genuinely, perhaps naively – in the face of so much erroneous evidence that we shouldn’t. And it will bind us to act accordingly.
A simple agreement serving as our daily protest.