Hope. It comes in many forms and from many sources. It is the cornerstone of a positive, productive life. It is an essential ingredient for all of us, especially kids. Adults must model it. Adults must share it. Adults must embrace it if kids are ever going to. Sadly, our media, for the most part, disdains hope. There are serious problems in our communities, our cities, our country, and our world, but the media is like a flock of vultures feeding off the carrion of human self-absorption, greed, and aggression. It purposely deprives viewers and readers of the most essential ingredient to life—hope. Humans have serious issues that need solutions, but if the populace is constantly fed the message that the sky is falling, that everyone and everything is corrupt, that there is no hope of redemption for the human species, then life might as well be over on this planet because there’s little reason to keep on living. Too many groups make too much money and acquire too much fame with doom and gloom scenarios, from the climate change movement to people in academia to our justice system and, obviously, within the political arena.
There are two things people can do to keep hope alive in their hearts—tune out the media except in small doses, and spend as much time as possible volunteering.
I had the pleasure of helping as a volunteer this past weekend at the Angel City Games held on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. This event was four days of clinics and coaching and then actual track and field events for people with physical disabilities, mostly children and teens. It was a truly heartening experience to see so many kids un-stacking the deck that life tried unsuccessfully to stack against them and turning their disabilities into very impressive abilities. I saw toddlers throwing the javelin and discus and putting the shot. But the high jump and some of the track events were the highlight of my volunteer time. One seven-year-old named Antonio competed in the 100m, the 400m, and the 1500m in a regular street wheelchair (there were racing chairs available, but he didn’t use one). We clapped and cheered as he finished every race he entered. He came in last, of course. He had short arms and the wrong chair. But he pushed and huffed and puffed his way across that finish line every time. There was no way he was going to quit. It just wasn’t in him. I felt honored to shake Antonio’s hand. That’s a boy who will never allow life to beat him down in any way. There’s no “sky is falling” in him, only hope and the will to succeed. The same can be said of all the child and teen athletes. Badass to the bone!
When I mentioned to a friend that I was volunteering at this event, the first question was, “Do you have someone disabled in your family?” I told him no, though I do have a disability of my own that made participation in sports as a child nearly impossible. But that will be the subject of my next post. Admittedly, most people tend to become involved in “causes” and volunteerism based on someone in their family or circle of friends who draws them in. Thus, there is a vested interest, as it were, to be involved in this or that arena. The Angel City Games were started by the family of a boy who has had a prosthetic leg since he was a toddler and who loves to compete in these kinds of events. They finally decided, rather than travel out of state to have him compete, that they’d start their own annual event, not just for him, but for other disabled children. Awesome. Kudos to this family for starting something that will benefit so many.
But do we always have to have a personal stake to get involved and make some situation better? I argue no. In fact, I strongly advise people to step out of their comfort zones and volunteer in areas they would never encounter in their daily lives. I did this over thirty years ago with incarcerated children, and I’m still there today volunteering my time and meager talents toward helping those desperately needy kids.
Volunteering is a fantastic family activity, too. I saw numerous parents and their kids volunteering at the games over the weekend. People are inherently self-centered, and children will stay that way—they can eventually become egomaniacal selfie kings and queens—unless they are brought out of themselves to see and be part of a larger world. That’s why volunteering at events like this is the perfect family weekend. Kids who may whine about something in their own lives will see other children who have struggled with far worse and rose above that issue or difficulty to triumph and be happy. Watching people work together, and helping those people work together for the betterment of others, is a fundamental key to hope, and it fosters gratitude in both children and adults.
Another aspect of hope the Angel City Games instilled in me was how much “good” technology has created. There’s too much doom and gloom, especially from some the environmental activist crowd, about how technology is destroying the planet (challenge one of those activists, especially a young American, to give up his or her cell phone and Wi-Fi and you’ll likely get the pronouncement that other people are the problem, not him/her). Seeing the incredible prosthetics these athletic children were using at the Games, not to mention the impressive racing chairs, all of which enable them to have full, productive lives, reminded me that technological advances are always more of a help than a hindrance. Despite the activists’ lament, it’s technology that’s the key to reversing the effects of pollution, and technology will allow us to heal the earth, at least as much as humans can ever truly “control” nature, of course. To listen to some in the “activist” crowd, we’re already doomed. If we’re already doomed, why do such organizations keep asking for more and more of our money? I wrote one of my books about the environment and the need for balance on this issue. Not just balance, either, but volunteerism—people voluntarily recycling and using less gas and not throwing away anything useful because it might be outdated, and, number one, sharing their time and material goods with others. It’s working together as a community that solves problems, not donating to this group or that or asking the government to fix everything.
Volunteerism is the key. In the Los Angeles area there are myriad volunteer opportunities every weekend and even on weeknights. It’s not hard to find them – a simple Internet search will do that job. And if there is something you feel passionate about—like beach cleanups or tutoring or visiting elderly people or helping the homeless or visiting incarcerated kids or mentoring children in park programs or within church groups—gather some of your friends together and make it happen. If no one is willing to help, do it yourself and you’ll meet other like-minded people who think about the big picture like you do. I met some very cool people over the weekend, as I always do when I volunteer. I learned about their backgrounds and they about mine. Volunteering breaks down barriers between groups of people and that’s something we need far more of in this country.
I call this path to hope and change “We Over Me” because that is how problems are solved – each one of us has to put our ego aside, stop seeking fame, fortune, and self-aggrandizement, and work hands-on with fellow citizens, no matter what they look like or how different they may appear. This is a major theme in my writing because I know that all of us working together—rather than groups pointing the finger at each other—is the only way our species and our planet will ever heal. The primary ingredient in that healing is hope.
So please, turn off the news, spend minutes, rather than hours, on social media, and get out in your community to volunteer anywhere you can. Bring your children and your friends. Bring your heart and your compassion. Bring an open mind. Let yourself be filled with hope for a change, instead of despair. You will never regret your decision. You and your children will be better for giving of yourselves without expecting anything in return. You won’t become famous. You won’t get rich. But you’ll feel rejuvenated, as I did this past weekend. You’ll have hope in your hearts that humanity isn’t doomed, and you’ll have helped in some small way toward a better future, not just for the people you served, but for all of us.