This morning started out like any other as I arrived at school. While booting up the computer and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I reflected on the warm up question kids would tackle as they funnelled into my classroom in just a few minutes. We had been discussing the Enlightenment the past week with names like Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire dominating the conversation. As I was about to put the question up on the board, I suddenly decided to rework it. Blame it on the caffeine hitting my veins or a fresh perspective, but as I reread the initial warm up, I knew something needed to change. Happy with the result, I posted the new question and welcomed students in.
“What do you think is the most important human freedom or right? Why?”
That was the question that greeted students as they entered the classroom. After giving them a few minutes to think about and record their answers, I asked each to respond to the question, as I tallied the results on the board. “Let’s see how the results are ranked,” was my directive to the class, as the first person shared their thoughts.
I was expecting a lot of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion” responses. Perhaps even a “right to bear arms” thrown in for good measure. While the overwhelming answer was “freedom of speech,” the most unexpected yet thoughtful response came from a mild mannered, unassuming, typically hesitant to participate young man.
“The right to hope. To hope for a better future.”
Wow. That gave me pause. As I stood in front of the class, I did just that. I put the chalk down, sat on the front desk, cupped my chin in the palm of my hand, and replied, “Tell me more.” I wanted to know what would lead a fifteen-year-old freshman boy to rank the right to hope, to dream of a better life and a prosperous future as not only important, but also inalienable.
The conversation that followed with my small twelve person World History class was something every teacher with a passion for their subject and a desire to witness actively engaged students wishes to experience. It was special and something I will always cherish. They shared thoughts and listened to one another intently. These kids truly believed in the rights they were defending. They wholeheartedly felt that a future filled with hope and ambition was something to be declared and preserved.
There is so much surrounding us that points to hopelessness. So many that are hopeless. One need only turn on the news or scroll through the day’s headlines to realize this sad truth. Corrupt world leaders. Terrifying acts of violence. Rampant disease. Lack of clean water. Food insecurity. Racism. Bigotry. The list goes on. How does one combat such large, systemic problems? To face the desperate needs of so many seems overwhelming. It is a daunting task. I am but one person, a mere speck in the vastness of humanity. Can I really contribute anything meaningful? The hurts of this world are just too complicated. They can’t be fixed. I mean, I’m not in a position of power. I can’t be a world changer.
“I’m not…” “I can’t…” “It’s too complicated.”
These are words and phrases we must erase from our vocabulary if we are to move forward.
So where do we begin? By giving people reason to hope again.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.-Hebrews 6:19
Can I solve world hunger? No, but I can offer a meal to a struggling family or a hurting friend.
Will I end the clean water crisis? Not personally, but I can help inch our world ever closer to that goal by supporting organizations like Wine to Water who build relationships with communities around the globe to fix, aid, and educate. No child should die from preventable diseases. Not one.
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.-Desmond Tutu
Can I cure cancer? I so wish I could, but until the time that heinous disease is beaten for good, I can lend a helping hand to someone suffering, offer words of encouragement, or better yet, simply listen and be present. Don’t discount the impact your mere presence is at the foot of a hospital bed, the side of a chemo chair, or the sofa in a waiting room.
Will issues like gerrymandering, campaign finance, and special districts (Why, yes. Yes, I do watch John Oliver.) be corrected on my watch? No, but I can and will exercise my right to take part in the democratic process by voting and having a say in what I see as immoral practices that have no place in American politics. Millions of women are denied access to the ballot box in countless countries. Let us not disregard their forced silence by failing to raise our voices. Be informed. Remain engaged.
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.-Howard Zinn
Can I solve the refugee crisis? As an issue that weighs heavy on my heart, I so desire the ability to say yes. From where I am, what I can do is set my alarm and pray. I can educate myself, others, and write letters to those in positions to legislate moral and lasting change. Until the crisis is over, I can and will continue to speak up and shine a light on the plight of those consumed by injustice, darkness, and fear.
In a world devoid of hope, be hope. Find something or someone that speaks hope into your life and cling to it.
I am filled with hope when I gaze out at my high school students. Hope in a generation that engages, questions, participates, cares, and dreams. Among them are future leaders, scientists, problem solvers, and world changers. In that, I am certain. In that, I find hope.
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.-John Wesley