I’m reminded increasingly these days of this quote by Howard Zinn, historian, activist, professor who died last year. It comes from his article, “The Optimism of Uncertainty”. If you do a search on this article, you’ll find it referenced in a number of places, for example: The Nation on September 2, 2004 and CommonDream.org November 8, 2004.
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time.To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
To be reminded that the seemingly smallest acts of kindness, acknowledgement, appreciation: a smile, a hello, holding the door for someone, telling a child how good she/he is, a wave to the neighbor can have a profound effect and made a big difference. It is the compounding effect we can’t anticipate. You never know how far positive kind work or action will travel and for how long. What we can do is make those little acts of kindness a more conscious behavior. The moments will add up to hours and days and months and lifetimes.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
What are you choosing to emphasize in this complex history we are co-creating? What are our news media choosing to emphasis, our nations choosing to emphasize. We determine our history.