Peace. Love. Kindness. Goodness. Unity. Harmony.
Do you believe in them?
I was stranded on an island over the summer.
After visiting Long Island, I wanted to explore the area for a few more hours, so I took a bus to the nearby Fire Island to take photos.
When I was done, I walked back to the bus stop but saw the last bus of the evening already driving to the long bridge back to Long Island.
There I stood, alone at the edge of a quickly emptying visitor parking lot, as the sun was already setting and everyone was heading home. I had only two choices:
1. Walk the 6 miles back to the Long Island train station I had to be at.
2. Call a taxi company so I could pay the hefty sum for someone to get me off that island.
I looked at the parking lot behind me and saw a dozen cars remaining. The last few visitors were leaving.
In the spur of the moment, I reminded myself I could always depend on one of my deepest faiths: human kindness. I decided to create a third way back: I would ask for a ride from a complete stranger.
I noticed a large family with one of its members packing their car as the rest of them were still using the nearby visitor bathroom. I approached the one packing the car. I crossed my fingers.
“Hi, are you heading back to Long Island? I missed the last bus back and was wondering if you would just drop me off at the train station.”
He looked at me, seemed to kinda examine and gauge me for a while, as if—obviously as if—no one in this country ever asks for these kinds of favors.
But then his face softened at the opportunity. “Sure,” he said, “but the rest of my family isn’t ready yet. Come on over to meet them. What’s your name?”
There it was. The first stranger I asked said yes.
That family was incredibly open to accommodating me. After telling them I was visiting from Boston, they offered to drive me all the way back to Manhattan for my bus ride back to Boston (but I insisted I already bought a round-trip Long Island train ticket and that dropping me off at the nearby train station would be enough). Then they told me to take out my train map to make sure I indeed knew how to get back. And finally, when we got to the station, they even waited with me and chatted with me at the platform until I was safely on the right train.
But not only were they so accommodating, but they were also genuinely interested in me as a person. They treated me as if I were part of their family, asking me about my job, my career aspirations, and my missions in life. I was more than a stranger to them. They trusted me, listened to me, and befriended me—all while bringing me closer to home.
Do we forget that kindness and goodness exist in this world?
The news and media have not only programmed us to pick up on just the negatives of human nature no matter how big or small, but they have also led us to believe that a world devoid of love is natural and inevitable. Their stories constantly warn us: Another murderer on the loose. War—still the only medium of exchange between countries. Be careful in your hometown. Be careful abroad. Don’t trust anyone. They’re all out to get you.
Is the world really that much of an ugly one and nothing more?
While everything shown in journalism may be real and while it may be a necessary evil dutifully warning us about dangers and threats, too much is left out. The big problem with journalism is not that its stories are not objective enough but that choosing which stories to tell will always be subjective.
True: cruelty and harshness exist in this world and yes, we must be aware of that, but if you look at the world with your own eyes and resist the lens that the cult of negative media wants you to wear, I think you’ll see that—although it often slips under the radar and is rarely publicized—kindness exists in this world; you’ll see that love—unlike loud and faceless hate—is often quiet and individualized; and you’ll see that we humans—at the very least—are capable of loving and being loved in return.
My friend Sidney Efromovich, the founder of Boston University’s Hug Don’t Hate organization, once said, “If you ever need to think outside the box, simply think into your heart; because your heart was never constrained by boxes.”
Imagine me again, stranded on that island.
Do I believe in love and kindness?
If I didn’t, I had two choices: walk or take a cab.
If I did, I could create new choices: ask for a ride, ask for money for a cab, call the bus company to explain my situation, knock on a local house to ask to stay the night, and much more.
Cynics laugh at these.
The documentary God Grew Tired of Us tells the story of the “lost boys of Sudan”—the term given to the 30,000 who fled their war-torn country by foot during the Second Sudanese Civil War. In 2001, nearly 4,000 of them were invited by the United States and the International Rescue Committee to resettle in America.
The film follows the lives of three of these lost boys, showing their initial sense of confusion, amazement, and wonder as they grow accustomed to things we have in America that they never even knew existed: electricity, running water, public transportation, supermarkets, readily available food.
But even though they quickly become familiar with our technology, they never feel acclimated to our social lifestyle. Their grueling hours at work prevent them from spending quality time with friends. They can never say hello to a neighbor without getting weird looks. They feel utterly baffled at how they must watch out for theft and murder every time they step out their door.
Despite all the conveniences and opportunities in America, the lost boys of Sudan long for their home country, where villages are true communities, where locks do not exist, and where wandering strangers are invited into their huts, fed, and welcomed to stay.
If refugees want to go home to their war-torn country rather than stay in the world’s greatest superpower, what does that say about us?
Aren’t we the ones who got ourselves lost? Aren’t we the ones who are displaced from true humanity, true community? Aren’t we the ones who constantly seek refuge?
The joke’s on us. Still laughing?
If, somewhere in the world, there exists a community so open to love, why can’t it exist here too?
If, sometime in your life, there existed a person so open to love, why can’t the stranger next to you be like that too?
We were all raised differently, we have all been exposed to different experiences, we have all learned different social etiquette.
But we’re all human, right? We were all born with the same capacity to love and be loved in return, right?
Many people are starting to claim that “Love” is their religion. But what do they mean?
Do they only preach about it and pray for it? Or have they actually taken—as Kierkegaard once coined—a “leap to faith” to truly, deeply believe in the existence of love?
If a stranger asked them for a ride, would they give it? If they needed a ride from a stranger, would they ask for it?
If a stranger asked them if they could stay in their house, would they grant it? If they needed to stay at a stranger’s house, would they ask for it?
Are there different levels of faith in this religion called love? Are there different denominations of it too—some more focused on giving, some more focused on receiving, some more focused on preaching and praying, some more unafraid of doing?
Does it matter? Is that okay? Are they all still believers? I do not know.
But this I know: Every year America gives us a thicker, cloudier, and more cynical pair of glasses to see the world, and every year it takes that much more faith—that much more of a bigger leap—to take them off and throw them down, to step on them and crunch them, to want to approach every brand new stranger we see by leaning in, squinting at them, and recognizing in their individual, unique face that they, too, are human and that they, too, are capable of loving and being loved in return.
Saint Augustine said “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
If we crunch our glasses and approach every stranger blindly, if we believe in love, kindness, and harmony despite the murderer on the loose and despite the ongoing wars, if we have faith in what is seemingly not there and not newsworthy, it is only then that we will start to see what we all secretly want to see, and it is only then that our hearts will open up to others and other hearts will open up to us, and it is only then that we will have enough hope to believe that the hate, discord, and cruelty we have been programmed to see does not need to be our natural course.
And we circle back to the opening question:
Do you believe in peace, love, kindness, goodness, unity, and harmony?
It’s not about believing what we always see and hear. It’s about leaping and believing what we RARELY see and hear.
It’s not about denying and ignoring the existence of hate, discord, and cruelty. It’s about being faithful enough to believe peace, love, and harmony exist DESPITE anything that even resembles their ugly opposites.
It’s not about debating whether we are good or bad in our natural state. It’s about recognizing that all of us want love and peace in our CURRENT state.
It’s not about preaching and praying—we have more than enough of that. It’s about participating and performing—we need EVERYONE for that.
It’s not about resigning to safe neutrality and painstaking precaution. It’s about embracing blind positivity and undying, RELENTLESS love.
It’s not about giving up and saying most our hearts are already bruised and corrupted. It’s about giving in and saying ALL HEARTS, no matter how beaten, can still beat.
Martin Luther King, Jr. told us: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
The naive are not the ones who believe love can exist but the ones who believe that hate is all that is possible.
Not one of us can say we have never had negative feelings, but each one of us can say we have the capacity to love and be loved in return.
Let us not—for even one second—cynically believe that our negative feelings will always turn into negative actions and let us not—for even one second—safely assume that our positive feelings will always turn into positive actions.
Feelings are natural, actions are not.
It is because of actions that we see that people are good, people are bad, and that peace exists, war exists.
Neither is natural, neither is inevitable.
Never has the whole human population believed in one side or acted on one side. The world has always been balanced on a see-saw where neither peace, love, and harmony nor hate, discord, and cruelty have completely taken over, whether in our beliefs or in our actions.
But one CAN win over the other.
And it has always been up to us today to decide which way the world will sway.
“On Peace, Love, and Harmony” is a special three-part series by Nathan Chow.
This article is the first part.
While believing world peace is possible is a crucial first step towards it, it is not enough. We must also do.
~~~ In Part II: Interbeing, Giving, and Receiving, find out how we humans are one and how we need to give and receive freely in order to keep love alive.
~~~ In Part III: Marching Inward and Onward, find out how we need to think small and change OUR world in order to change THE world.