I love history. I have since I was 13 years old and read a book about a fellow named John Colter who made a group of Native Americans that had captured him believe he was a terribly slow runner (he was not) and who, naked and shoeless, outran all but one of an entire party pursuing him and escaped to live another day. You should look him up. It’s a great story.
After reading that story, I started reading lots and lots of history. But the history I read was not the history you’re taught in school; it was the history of people.
I can’t tell you when the Battle of the Bulge was, or when the British defeated the Spanish Armada, but I can tell you about the Yugoslavian rebels who saved 500 American and British pilots and managed to get them out of the country by way of an airstrip they made with shovels, hoes and rakes. I know about American pacifist Desmond Doss who kept going back in the face of withering enemy fire to save his fellow soldiers. I can tell you about Ernest Shackleton and his daring adventure in Antarctica when his ship was crushed by the ice and he and his men had to make it back to civilization on their own.
I have also read about those who survived Nazi death camps and those who tragically didn’t. I know the story of the Salem Witch Trials and what really happened. In short, I’ve read about people who seem to have been cousins of the angels and those who seem to be the offspring of the devil himself.
I’ve come to certain conclusions from reading all these accounts:
So it seems to me that everyone has a choice to make in life, and it really is a choice. You can be the sort of person who spends her time bringing evil and discontent into this world or the kind of person who strives to help others and bring a zone of peace and understanding to the environment around her—the kind of person who stands up for what is right or the sort of person who doesn’t. It’s really that simple. And it doesn’t take a war. The choices you make are yours to make every single day.
People who stand up and do the right thing are unfortunately in the minority.
I often wear my Scientology t-shirt and am amazed at what I see. Certain complete strangers feel they can approach and berate me for my choices in life. First off, they have no idea what my religion is all about. They have bought into some sort of propaganda line and decided that they should destroy people who dare to practice Scientology. But even more importantly, they have decided, in that moment, that they should harm another. Okay, it isn’t physical harm, but ask anyone who is constantly bullied if those types of actions are harmful. Bullying destroys another’s happiness and, at worst, can and has caused individuals to take their own lives.
One of the most dismaying things about public crimes you see in the news is the number of people who stand around and just video people behaving like monsters. If someone 6’5” throws paint on and then stands over and yells at a little old lady in an attempt to frighten and intimidate her, someone should step forward, but in the video I saw nobody did. There were, however, a lot people who took videos of it and posted them to their (anti-)social media accounts.
When a mob is looting and burning and looking for people to pummel, you should put down your phone and do something. But you don’t even have to go that far. You get to make these kinds of choices every single day.
If someone is mocking another in a school hallway, you can speak up. It’s the kind of moment when you get to make the choice: are you going to go along or are you going to stand up for what’s right?
If someone starts to gossip about your friend, are you going to listen and smile or are you going to stand up for her?
If someone tells you awful things about a person’s religion, are you going to take this as an “opportunity” to be cruel to the next member of that religion you meet, or are you going to endeavor to find out for yourself—possibly even from them?
If you see something on social media that is going to incite others to hate or do harm, will you share it? Or will you share the video that will make them smile?
Me, I like to make people smile.
And even more importantly, everyone has to decide if they want to be the kind of person who tears people and things down, or the kind who improves conditions by helping others. If you really do want to be the kind of person who stands up for and helps others, start by just being kind to your fellow man. It’s been said by every religion for thousands of years, but so few people actually do it.
If you see someone in distress, ask if they need help. Find out if your elderly neighbor needs you to pick something up for him at the store. If we all did that this world would not be one of contention and strife—it would be a great place to live.
The government cannot regulate kindness. It is you and me that can really make a difference. And no matter what anyone would have you believe, you actually can make a difference.