For When You Need Encouragement…

An Operation Beautiful note I posted in November of 2016.

Recently, I broke one of my self-care rules.

I allowed myself to spend hours, reading pages upon pages of disappointing, often scary news and op-eds. And then I read the comments section. (Ugh, I know.)

Which would be fine if I weren’t prone to anxiety-fueled spirals of despair afterwards.

Normally, I limit myself to keeping up with the news of the day in short spurts, so that I have time to properly digest the information I take in and put it in perspective.

It is important that I follow this rule because, when I don’t, I can’t do what I do best which is help people on the local level, those around me. The despair I feel following a news-binge swallows me whole into a darkness that doesn’t allow me to remember that there are glimmers of hope I can hold onto. That there are things I can do to help, even when on days like today, chaos seems to be everywhere.

So when I broke this rule, I had to find a way out of the darkness. I had to find a way to get pumped about the things I need to do to continue to help others, to remember to be compassionate, even when I am frustrated. I needed to remember that while I cannot do much to help the things that are out of my control, I can remember to take up for my town. I can remember to endeavor to help the people around me as best as I can every day.

Honestly, I needed to remember that when things get tough, you just have to Leslie Knope that shit. I needed to find the Leslie Knopes of the world.

And so, I revisited a few inspiring TED talks that were featured on various episodes of my favorite podcast, the TED Radio Hour. And they helped, not because they pollyanna-ed me out of my sadness, but because each talk reminded me that I wasn’t alone. That I didn’t have to take up for my town by myself. That there were people like me who not only wanted to help and advocate for others, but were able to do so and communicate their causes in innovative ways.

And now I want to share those talks with you. Not because I want to fill you with temporary hope. But because I want to remind you of the struggles around us and I want to encourage you to keep working towards making your communities a better place to live. I want you to know that you’re not alone and that there are many paths to effectively making the world a better place. Start with what you do best and go from there.

Here are the talks that pulled me out of the dark and reminded me that I still have work to do:

1.) Mayor Kasim Reed 

“Folks, cities are where hope meets the street. And if you don’t want to spend your     whole life waiting to change something, I happen to believe that you ought to be in cities. You pick an issue, and we are dealing with those issues head-on at cities.”

2.) Morgan and Caitria O’Neill

“I want and need to believe that anyone can do this. And I think that people just rise to challenges. And I hope, you know, when people see something wrong or something bad that they speak up and do something about it. The only thing you need is to believe that you can positively impact a crappy situation, whether it’s with a chainsaw, or with your hands, or with, you know, a loud voice like mine.” (From Morgan O’Neill’s TED Radio Hour interview.)

3.) Rebecca Onie

This aspiration that our healthcare keep us healthy is an enormously powerful one. And the way I think about this is that healthcare is like any other system. It’s just a set of choices that people make. What if we decided to make a different set of choices? What if we decided to take all the parts of healthcare that have drifted away from us and stand firm and say, “No. These things are ours. They will be used for our purposes. They will be used to realize our aspiration”? What if everything we needed to realize our aspiration for healthcare was right there in front of us just waiting to be claimed?”

4.) Bryan Stevenson

“I’ve come to TED because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

5.) Mia Birdsong

I’m going to take a minute to speak to my people. We cannot wait for somebody else to get it right. Let us remember what we are capable of; all that we have built with blood, sweat and dreams; all the cogs that keep turning; and the people kept afloat because of our backbreaking work. Let us remember that we are magic.

If you need some inspiration to jog your memory, read Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.” Listen to Reverend King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Listen to Suheir Hammad recite “First Writing Since,” or Esperanza Spalding perform “Black Gold.” Set your gaze upon the art of Kehinde Wileyor Favianna Rodriguez. Look at the hands of your grandmother or into the eyes of someone who loves you.

We are magic. Individually, we don’t have a lot of wealth and power, but collectively, we are unstoppable. And we spend a lot of our time and energy organizing our power to demand change from systems that were not made for us. Instead of trying to alter the fabric of existing ways, let’s weave and cut some fierce new cloth. Let’s use some of our substantial collective power toward inventing and bringing to life new ways of being that work for us.”

6.) John Hunter

Every game we play is different. Some games are more about social issues, some are more about economic issues. Some games are more about warfare. But I don’t try to deny them that reality of being human. I allow them to go there and, through their own experience, learn, in a bloodless way, how not to do what they consider to be the wrong thing. And they find out what is right their own way, their own selves. And so in this game, I’ve learned so much from it, but I would say that if only they could pick up a critical thinking tool or creative thinking tool from this game and leverage something good for the world, they may save us all. If only.” 

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