A couple of days ago, while waiting to get an update about a situation that has been a source of great stress, I found myself overridden with anxiety about the future. My mind was racing with thoughts of failure and the fear of being subsumed by depression yet again. It was at this exact moment that a stranger walked by and said some unexpected words that gave me a temporary reprieve from worry and sparked hope where I had none of it.
“Smile kid, everything will be OK”.
We have become accustomed to passing by one another and not paying attention to the people right next to us. It is easier to be up in arms over injustices far away while pretending that people in our proximity are objects to be overlooked. Yet, even as we keep plugging in and checking out in the progress, we can’t get away from the fact that we are connected to each other in ways that can never be emulated by technology and apps.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve written plenty of articles and interacted with countless people who have praised my work. Yet, out of all the likes and shares I’ve received from friends and strangers alike through the wonders of the internet, one of the most profound encouragements I’ve been treated to was from a stranger who told me to smile when I was least expecting it.
Too many of us have perfected the art of telling others how to act as our egos lead us into thinking we know what is best for society. But too often, we fight battles externally in order to obscure the wounds we harbor in our hearts. This is not to state that we should disregard the injustices of the world, but if there is one thing I have learned over the past couple of months of battling ennui is that we can’t help others if it comes at the expense of healing ourselves.
We live in a time where outrage and anger have become the norm. News and politics have become toxic in ways that splinter us apart and keep us perpetually at each other’s throat. It is vexing to say the least, the more we pay attention to the issues of the day; the more we are subsumed and consumed by the excesses of it all.
But what if the answer is for us to think small and find ways to help those who struggle and in the process admit that we struggle too. Hubris makes us want to lead others and ego deceives us into thinking that we have the answers. But if we admit that we are all on a journey of discovery and that none of us have it figured out, perhaps the friction that abounds would be lessened. It is easy to lecture and yell past each other, but a lot more would be accomplished if we just learned to be kind to one another.
There is a schadenfreude that we feel when we let others have what we think they deserve, but in the end fighting fire with fire only adds to the flames. There is another option we can take, instead of taking the bait and being drawn by animus, do something different and pass along a gesture of grace to someone without expecting anything in return.
“Smile kid, everything is going to be OK.”
You might not get likes and retweets, but your impact will be greater because your words could give hope to someone who needs it the most.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.