Image by the amazing beacon of light in my life Bethanne Arthur
The world is crazy, isn't it?
I mean, it's probably always been crazy but back when we lived in tribes and smaller communities, things were mostly presented and hashed out face to face. There was little time between conversations for miscommunication, no sinking feelings in the pit of our stomach when things got misconstrued over miles and miles of distance and no area where insecurities could seep in, seethe and grow until they rear their head in the ugliest form-attacking our fellow man.
Yes, it's true, the internet is a big, scary place. There is a lot of sadness and anger and blatant stupidity out there. It is SO easy to fall into the trap of "you against me". It is SO easy to vilify someone you've never met because they aren't a real person...they are just a name on a screen.
But I think it's so very important, especially now to take a step back from the madness and reflect on the positive things in our lives. Whether you think you have 1 or 1 million things to be thankful for there is ALWAYS a reason to be thankful. The fact that I am alive and breathing is not something I've always been able to be thankful about. I've struggled with severe asthma my entire life. I've been to the ER for more times than I can count both as a child and adult and it all came to a head back in 2007. One night while being surrounded by several exacerbating factors I stopped breathing...completely. By the time I was driven to the hospital I had not been breathing for about 5 minutes, my lips turned blue and the last thing I remember was collapsing on the dirty floor of the emergency room at Good Samaritan hospital in Baltimore as the security guard told my then-boyfriend that he had to "fill out some forms" first before I could be admitted. The last thing I saw was a piece of flattened, blackened gum settled firmly into the filthy floor after years of heavy ER foot traffic and I remember right before I blacked out being slightly pissed off that of all the beautiful things in the world, that was the last thing I would see before I departed.
When I woke up, it was not of my own volition. The hospital put me in a medically induced coma after cutting all of my clothes off and intubating me. I didn't realize it had been several days that I had laid unconscious in the ICU and when I came to I didn't really know what was going on, where or even who I was. I remember my family, boyfriend at the time (who saved my life by disobeying security guards orders and busting through the ER doors like on a medical drama show) and best friend Brittany being there as well as Brittany's mom who was a nurse there at Good Sam. I remember seeing Martha Stewart on tv and somehow that was the most reassuring, familiar thing (I mean yeah, because she's my idol). I remember the strange feeling of not actually breathing for myself, frightening and weird to have a machine actually forcing breath directly into and out of your lungs. I remember my mouth pried open with this apparatus strapped to my head including several wires and IVs and cords all plugged into my body like a human version of a multi-outlet power strip. I remember feeling the blood caked down the side of my face and neck from when they jammed the tube down into my lungs to open my airways and get oxygen back into me. I remember thinking "this is what it must feel like to be attacked by a face hugger from Alien"...although that thought came much later when I was finally fully conscious. I then remember a nurse...not my favorite nurse...coming up to me in all my bionic human glory and showing and telling me that she was about to stick this really big needle in my wrist to check my oxygen levels and that it was going to hurt A LOT (her words not mine...because you know...I physically couldn't speak). I remember being almost as scared then as I was when I originally stopped breathing and thought that was my last day on earth.
Spoiler alert-I survived.
I didn't start this blog post with the intention of telling people my brush with death story, but when a story wants to be told, damn anyone that tries to prevent it. There was a moment in time...several minutes in fact, where I realized I was going to die. I realized that at that point in my minuscule time on this planet that I had done absolutely nothing. Also, I realized I was kind of a shitty person. No I wasn't going around doing anything especially heinous. I wasn't murdering people, I wasn't even intentionally hurting people, but I also wasn't doing anything else. My existence up to this point had been 100% selfish. I just cared about living my life and enjoying it, screw everyone else, right?
I'm not going to tell you this flowery, glorious story of how I woke up in that hospital bed and made the inspirational decision to take control of my life and overnight become mother Theresa. Because that would be a lie. In all honesty, even though I was certain I would die that night, only a small adjustment in my mindset was made. Of course there were a few big changes...I realized I had to take my asthma seriously and I could no longer just skirt by hoping everything would be ok. I realized my lifestyle probably wasn't sustainable but again, my stubborn nature prevented me from making any real changes for a very long time.
However, I think that moment changed my trajectory enough, just by a few degrees perhaps, that although it took a while my life path was inevitably altered by it. Slowly but surely I've been learning self-reflection. I've learned that the right thing isn't always the easiest thing or the thing that gets the most praise...in fact a lot of times when you do the right thing you'll go through hell to accomplish it and it can be thankless or even worse-you will have people hate you for it. I think this is so relevant in todays society of social media where every single thing you say or do is recorded, judged and added to your permanent record. But these are some things that I've learned slowly, over time by trial and error and I'm still working on it every day.
It is so easy to criticize other people. It's comforting, in fact. It is so innate for us human beings to create tribes, it is literally one of the most primal instincts to protect what you have from "the outsiders". The problem with that thinking is that it is all fear-based. When someone says they hate someone, 99% of the time it is coming from a place of ignorance and fear. That other 1% is the people who drive the speed limit in the left lane. Fear of something different, fear of someone being better, fear brought on by sensationalist news stories, the prevalence of fake news stories and good old fashioned hysteria. The thing is, if two people of differing viewpoints sat down with the true intention of a civil discussion, issues could be resolved so much quicker. Confrontation is not fun for anyone but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes we are afraid of "stirring the pot" "rocking the boat" or any of the other euphemisms for being direct and honest with someone when the outcome may not be pleasant. However, hashing it out and moving forward and potentially seeing the other persons side of things is such an important ingredient for understanding and reconciliation.
My point of this long, rambling post is this: There is enough negativity in the world. If there is anything I know, any one of us-all of us-actually could die tomorrow. We can all find something to disagree on, that is very easy to do. What is much more difficult, but perhaps the right thing to do is to find connections between people. Approach things with kindness. You may not get the reciprocity that you expected. You may be called "stupid" "troll" "sheep" or whatever other buzzword the dredges of the internet find the popular new thing. You may not see any instant results or even any permanent long term results. But I guarantee that if you, me, and a small group of people start combatting the toxicity with kindness it will make a small but impactful difference. Negativity is contagious, right? Misery loves company! But so does positivity. You're going to have haters of course, no matter what you do. But if you set out each day to make a positive change, to extend kindness to those who you disagree with and to maintain healthy conversation without getting emotionally involved and therefore defensive which turns into offense very quickly, I promise not only will it make your sleep better at night but it will start a snowball effect of positive change in the world that we so desperately need, right now and in the future.
I'm not saying be like Daryl Davis and go out and befriend KKK members. I'm also not saying don't stand up for what you believe in. I'm saying, maybe instead of approaching someone who disagrees with you and your viewpoint with immediate dismissal, try to find out something else about that person, something that you might even relate to. What is that persons favorite movie? Do they prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Ask them about their pets or children. Find out something that relates to their humanity. Even if that person is screaming and yelling and resorting to name-calling. Proceed with grace. Remember that people who yell the loudest and are the most easily triggered into a frenzy are oftentimes the most insecure. Instead of attacking them, try to be an ally and present your own voice with understanding and kindness. It seems like a simple, small thing but I assure you it's much harder to do in practice especially when being baited to react. At the end of the day think about it like this: if you were to die tomorrow, would you want your last indelible mark on earth to be you calling some guy on facebook a douche canoe?