We find ourselves at a time where there are a lot of atrocities taking place. As the influence of technology and social media over our lives exponentially grows, it’s becoming virtually impossible to tune into the media without reading about yet another attack, shooting, or act of utter disrespect toward humanity.
As a society, the recent bombardment of tragedies has likely left us jaded. Personally, when I read about yet another ISIS attack or shooting in the U.S., I feel a split second of hopelessness in humanity shock my heart.
Then, just as quickly, I am ashamed. It’s true that there has been a lot of horrors happening around us as of recent, but peaks of tragedies have been a reality since the beginning of time. The world is always facing some sort of crisis, and that is only one side of the coin that the media loves to focus on to generate headlines and fear. What about the other side, where large groups of strangers come together to take care of groups of refugees, people host and feed another out of the goodness of their heart, or someone asks how you are and actually cares to listen?
If there are two sides to society, then why are we made to believe that the world has more bad than good?
I’ve been travelling my entire life, yet couch-surfing through my social network during the past few months has reminded me daily of why humanity is good. The connections I’ve made with people — even strangers — that I’ve encountered on the road have been so rich, meaningful, and powerful that they’ve left me high, and not the high you crash on. This is different than anything I’ve experienced before. It’s a high that infuses you with positive energy, joy, and an itch to spread kindness.
I’ve wondered why this feeling has only started to acutely hit me, only to realize that it coincides with my gradual understanding of what universal love is. We don’t need to know people for a long time to feel genuine love for them. When we strip away our ego — our carefully constructed identities that categorise us by race, career, religion, nationality, and so on — we are all the same. We shine from the same light and fade from the same darkness. We have to believe it for us to heal as a human race, and what’s more, make an effort to practice this belief in our daily lives.
I share with you how I’m learning to fall in love with humanity again:
Everyone we encounter has something to say. Sometimes, that opinion will align with and reinforce our own beliefs. Other times, an opinion will make us angry or uncomfortable because we don’t understand its rationale. That’s okay. We don’t have to agree with people to listen to what they have to say. Allowing others to express themselves validates their voice. Fundamentally, we all want to be heard.
When I have conversations with people that I meet around the world, I am bound to feel anything from extreme joy to uneasiness or frustration. Culturally, people across the planet are diverse and there isn’t much that can (or should) be done to change that. While our beliefs and values lie on a very wide spectrum, at the end of the day we are vitally similar: we all have concerns, people we care for, goals we strive for, and dreams for a better life. They just happen to manifest in different ways.
There is a difference between hearing people and listening to them. To objectively listen to what someone has to say is an act of respect and recognition of equality. It means that you care enough to want to understand, and understanding breeds compassion. Compassion is love.
2. Look people in the eye.
I have a theory that if everyone in the world spent at least 60 seconds looking into each other’s eyes — quietly, intently, and presently – the world would be a more peaceful place. While impossible to prove, it’s based on the belief that eye contact is one of the most powerful gestures of love there is. There is truth behind the saying that eyes are the windows to the soul. When two windows are directly facing one another, the outside world disappears and all there is to do is look inside.
Try it. If you do nothing but concentrate on looking into someone’s eyes, thinking is cumbersome. It’s a meditative exercise that, similar to focusing on your breathing, actively holds you in the moment. If you hold eye contact long enough, you hopefully begin to see that the person you are looking at is no more or less human than you. The feeling that stirs within can be best described as humility, another essential ingredient of love.
Of course it’s not realistic to have staring contests with everyone we meet in our daily life, and that’s not the point. Just as we want to be heard, we also crave being seen. When people take the time to look at us, we feel valued. Our existence, and humanity, is acknowledged.
3. Make contact.
Human touch is so essential. Think about how comforting someone’s hand on your shoulder is, or all those times when there were no words but an embrace sufficed. So many of us are starved for affection, that feeling of literal connection to someone, yet are quick to shy away from it.
I’m not advocating that we go around randomly touching people. That would be creepy. But when welcomed, touch nurtures us. It is a vital human need that makes us feel wanted, cared for, and consequently, prone to affection.
I try to be gratuitous with human contact, while of course respecting personal and social boundaries. Whenever possible, I make it a point to hug somebody and mean it. Generating warmth in everyday interactions, even when it is not reciprocated, is a daily reminder that we are all flesh and bones.
4. Create laughter where there is none.
Ever since I was a little girl, I wished for one superpower: the ability to speak every language in the world. Only through my travels did I realize that we do have a universal language, and that is laughter. Laughter is the glue that has the power to bond people of completely different backgrounds, languages, and ethnicities together.
Laughter is important. We know that. But it’s also much easier said than done.
We won’t always encounter happy stories — life brings both happiness and sadness. There are stories, both our own and of others, that will hurt us, tear us apart even. There isn’t much we can do about that; creating collective joy out of these seemingly bad moments, however, is within our control.
One of my favourite memories of this was on a winter Tuesday in New York City. I was on the metro at an off-peak time, and only a few people were in the subway car. Everyone looked utterly miserable. Halfway through the ride, a group of older gentlemen dressed in dusty grey suits walked in. They began singing the sunny 1960’s classic, “My Girl.” I will never forget what happened next. Within minutes, I could see my fellow passengers restraining the corners of their mouths to prevent themselves from smiling. The music was infectious — by the time the men hit chorus, passengers could not keep a straight face. Soon after they finished, the car was humming with positive energy and conversation.
These singers had completely transformed the mood of a gloomy subway ride by creating a shared moment of joy, when there previously was none.
5. Find what’s beautiful about another person, and communicate it.
It’s so easy to pass out “constructive criticism,” but how often do we thoughtfully complement one another? We deserve to hear the little things that make us amazing, and it’s not done enough. Wherever I go, I try to identify what made someone special to me, and then I tell that person. I keep a folder in my phone called “Tokens of Appreciation” where I document quotes and lessons that people I encounter during my travels have taught me. Whenever possible, I write a short story to let people know what impact they’ve made on my life.
I believe that reminding one another of why we are good encourages us to cultivate that good. Finding the best in others is not always an easy task. Doing so reminds us that even when everything around us seems like it’s falling apart, we still collectively have positivity to contribute to this world.
It’s worth it.
Life is a bit uneasy right now for us as a society. Rather than fall into despair, the best medicine to preserving our hope and sanity is continuing to practice love every day: with ourselves, our neighbors, and even those that we encounter in a passing moment of our lives. Humanity is worth falling in love with. Humanity, after all, begins with you.