The harder and more complicated life gets, the closer I am drawn to people’s stories. I walk past a barber shop and see a gentleman, the barber, sitting reading a magazine in his barber chair and I turn back around, go in and ask him why he’s a barber, how long he’s been a barber, why he’s living there, what he loves about his wife, where he wants to go on vacation. I am hungry for every person’s narrative.
Walking through airports is especially challenging; everyone looks interesting: the person cleaning the bathroom, the person at security, the tired woman at the ticket counter, the two men walking hand-in-hand, the group of boys that looks like a team, from Wisconsin; I want to take pictures of every single person, hear where they came from, where they’re going and why. What they ate for breakfast; do they have a dream?
We go to Yellowstone and it is vast and white and the bison are huge and the elk are in our path when we try to take a soak in the Boiling River, but what I really want is to know who the man is who’s shoveling snow. I talk to strangers and learn that the people in the car next to ours just moved to Montana from Mad River Glen. And that the guy at the information counter has a bunch of family arriving today, from Barre. The world is so small and beautiful.
But there is a growing malaise and I notice it everywhere I go. Everyone seems to be getting suckered into some version of the divisive contempt peddled by our psychopathic president. Why are otherwise intelligent people being drawn into this nonsense? The stone-throwing and communal whining, most of which is happening in the echo chambers of the Internet. It’s not helping. Sitting in your cozy living room at the keyboard of a computer and punching out a laundry list of grievances so all your “friends” will think you’re clever is actually adding to the problem. And, in case you missed any of the recent news stories about our Great American Pastime, where much of this takes place, here’s a best of: Facebook unknowingly allowed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to collect personal data on millions of Americans. It failed to notice Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election; facilitated ethnic and religious violence in several countries; and allowed advertisers to target such noble categories of consumers as “Jew haters.”
Awesome. All in a day’s work.
If you use Facebook or its little brother, Instagram, you’re complicit. Do I really need to remind you that your life and what you do with it matters, that personal accountability and the choices you make matter?
If you’re not actively building bridges while you complain about the conditions in our world right now, if you aren’t participating in creating answers to the most pressing problems we have then you’re only making noise and noise isn’t really all that helpful, as anyone who has ever spent time with a toddler knows.
Noise doesn’t get the job done, action does.
I am story hungry these days. Ravenous. Tell me yours. I want to hear it and see it and write and know it. I may not like your politics or eat what you eat for supper. I didn’t grow up where you did and I don’t know your sister, but I can listen to you and we can find some humor, at the very least. And I believe with all of my heart that this is how things change: one by one by one, on a very personal level. When we make choices from a place of personal integrity; when we act on our beliefs and when we listen to our neighbors then the world automatically becomes a better place.
You can build a bridge or you can build a wall. For real.