Restoring Faith

In a week that has seen a siege in a cafe in Sydney’s central business district end with three dead, yet another senseless gun massacre in the US leaving six dead, and, only today, over 140 students and teachers murdered in cold blood in Pakistan, it is harder than usual to stay optimistic about the human condition. Why, when we have so much potential to be peaceful and loving individuals, do so many willingly walk the path of hate? Not only that, but choose the most innocent of all people as their victims? 

But amidst the horrors of the past few days some buds of hope and goodwill have slowly begun to emerge:

1. First came the hashtag #illridewithyou, created by a woman in Australia in response to the siege, to encourage her fellow countrymen and women to support all those who felt frightened to travel alone for fear of Islamophobic reprisals by ignorant people who fail to realise the vast majority of people who follow Islam are no more terrorists than they are. Before long the campaign went viral, with people all over the country declaring their pride to be residents of a place that refuses to tolerate Islamophobia and prejudice in all of its forms. And good on them.

2. The next ray of light comes in the form of the good folk who came up with the concept for the Casserole Club, which encourages people to make an extra meal when they cook each week to share with a lonely elderly neighbour. Friends of the Elderly also gets a mention for its fantastic Be a Friend campaign, which urges people to do small and easy things each day to help reduce the loneliness of the elderly. This was borne out of a survey the charity conducted which found that people do want to help, but often don’t know how, so both their campaign and the Casserole Club are wonderful ways to make a tangible difference to people’s lives. Just fantastic.

3. The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds has fed 10,000 people with 20,000 tonnes of unwanted but perfectly edible food, ticking every box in the book where helping the homeless, the hungry and the environment is concerned. Bravo to the founder, Adam Smith. The world needs more like him.

4. When this student realised she had lost her bank card after a night out in Preston a homeless man named Robbie gave her his last three pounds so she could safely get a taxi home. In return, she has started a campaign to raise money for a deposit on a flat for Robbie, who has been homeless for seven months through no fault of his own. So far she has raised £9k by asking for £3 donations in support of her living rough for 24 hours.

It’s a utopian ideal to think the evil in the world will ever be entirely stamped out, but as long as people like the ones I have described above exist and have the opportunity to share and grow their genuinely philanthropic goals with their communities and the wider world, I believe there will at least be a few very good reasons to keep faith in humanity.

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Small Kindnesses in a Hate-Filled World

Few could fail to have been moved by the recent news (and news reporting – but that’s an inflammatory issue for another post) of American journalist James Foley’s death at the hands of Islamist militants in Iraq, or haunted by the images below of two of the many Yazidi girls who have been caught up in a war that’s not of their own making – one who looks little older than a child but is forced to carry a rifle to protect her family. Such stories and images are heart breaking, but, for westerners, it is still somehow so hard to grasp that atrocities like these are taking place on such a large scale when the comparatively ‘civilised’ society in which we live is at the opposite end of the spectrum of humanity.

So many terrible, evil things are happening all around the world, and though we fortunate folk may feel sickened, we also feel powerless to help. And, granted, when it comes to the poor souls being persecuted in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and all the other places where oppression, violence, corruption and hatred are as widespread as the oceans between us, we ARE powerless. But there is one thing we can do: Reach out to the people in our immediate vicinity, undertaking acts of kindness that will bolster the collective morale and prove not only the strength and beauty of the human spirit, but also that goodness still exists in the world. Just like this man, hairstylist Mark Bustos in New York, who gives up every Sunday to roam the streets in search of homeless people who need a haircut, whilst his girlfriend takes the trouble to ask them what they want to eat (rather than giving them scraps and leftovers). You might think a haircut is a shallow thing, but he said this of one of his most memorable beneficiaries:

“After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?'”

It’s small acts of kindness just like this that have the power to restore people’s faith – in themselves, in the world around them, and in humanity itself. I’m not saying we should all go out with a pair of scissors every weekend, but I am saying this: We may not have the power to heal the world, but the power to heal those closest to us is absolutely in our hands – if only we choose to acknowledge and act on it.

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