When I initially started this column, my plan was to write about my trip to Thailand, my experiences volunteering in my community, my employer's decision to support several volunteer efforts this holiday season by allowing employees to volunteer during normal work hours, my gratitude for such a successful Safety Leadership Conference… In other words, a lot of good stuff.
And then the attacks occurred around the world this weekend and several people were gunned down in my hometown, contributing to what probably will be the highest murder count in many, many years. As I got off the elevator at work and heard the Rolling Stones singing "Gimme Shelter" ("Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today. If I don't get some shelter, oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away. War, children, it's just a shot away. It's just a shot away. War, children, it's just a shot away. It's just a shot away."), I knew the universe was telling me this column wasn't going to be about good stuff.
It's hard to know what to say when contemplating the news from Paris, Kenya, Beirut and other parts of the world. Mass killings of people I consider "innocents" (although the murderers might look at them differently) are hard to comprehend.
I think it's human nature to want to know "why" something so terrible happens. I deal with that feeling every day when reading about worker injuries and fatalities. There has to be a "reason" why bad things happen to good people, right?
In the case of the most recent terrorist attacks, it's difficult to process that someone is so filled with hatred for your philosophy, your religion, your country, your skin color, your socio-economic status, your allies … whatever… that he or she feels you deserve to die. It's happening on the world's stage and it's happening on the local level here in Cleveland, where gang warfare has claimed dozens and dozens of lives this year, many of them very small children who were caught in the crossfire of drive-by shootings. The only emotion that comes to mind when I'm thinking about the current state of affairs is despair.
I've heard people calling for mass bombings, for revenge. They are blaming an entire religion for the actions of a few radicals and that saddens me. It also saddens me when all police officers are blamed for the bad judgment and violent actions of a few, or when all young black men are treated as if they were gang members or violent offenders. There is such fear and hatred in the world right now, and it's hard to know who to believe or what to think.
A quote from Warsan Shire is being shared on social media forums. The first time I read it, I was overcome with emotion because it reflected so perfectly how I was feeling.
"later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Shire is a 24-year-old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. When I read about her and discovered her age, my first thought was: How does someone so young grasp the grief of so many? The answer is – unfortunately – that people of all ages can experience sorrow.
And then I remind myself that people of all ages also can experience hope. They can refuse to give in to the dark side of humanity and into their own basest, rawest emotions.
As a kid, I never watched Mr. Rogers, but as an adult, this quote from Fred Rogers always reminds me of my mother. She wasn't perfect – bad tempers run in our family – but she had the most generous spirit of anyone I've ever known. And I think if she was here today, she'd agree with Mr. Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
So while my column isn't about the helpers, I'm reminded that for every evil act, there are 1,000 acts of kindness and support. This holiday season, let's remind ourselves: The world is full of kind people. If you can't find one, be one.