Friday, November 29, 2013

The Power of Compassion

Several weeks ago, I attended an anti-bullying conference at TN Tech where I was introduced to a young high school girl by the name of Rachel Scott.  Rachel was always reaching out to those who were different or who were being bullied, and she would go out of her way to make new students feel welcome.  She said, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” 

In her junior year of high school, she wrote an essay titled “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” where she talked about making a difference in the lives of others.  Just by doing small things for people could greatly influence their behavior and outlook on life.  She admired people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and others who were the greatest examples of love, compassion, and kindness.  The person she admired the most was Anne Frank because in spite of her experiences, Miss Frank made a difference through the writing of her diary.  Therefore, Rachel began writing her own diaries where she expressed her feelings, philosophies, and thoughts about how we can help make the world a better place.

As Rachel stated, “I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live?  My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you.  You just may start a chain reaction.”

There are countless stories of how Rachel touched the lives of others.  She once stood up for a boy with disabilities who was being bullied and became his friend.  What she didn’t know was that before she did this, he was getting ready to kill himself.  Her kindness gave him hope and he chose life.  She was always looking for ways to bring kindness to those around her.

She continues to change lives to this day except for one thing.  Rachel is no longer with us.  Rachel was the first person to die in the Columbine High School shootings.  But her legacy lives on because those whose lives she touched organized Rachel’s Challenge where they present programs in schools and other venues teaching children and adults how to make a positive difference.  (For more information, please go to www.rachelschallenge.org.)

Friends, there are so many people of all ages in the world who are experiencing so much darkness for whatever reasons, and many are becoming desperate because they lose hope. Recently a friend of mine committed suicide and it was heartbreaking.  People who kill themselves don’t necessarily want to die; they just want the darkness and pain to end, and all it takes is that one split-second decision of no return. Never take away a person’s hope because that may be all they have left.

We need to lift people up and show them unconditional love and acceptance.  We have got to stop judging, demonizing, and making people feel worthless or less than.  All the great spiritual masters and teachers throughout history knew the importance of unconditional love.  There is so much we can do to bring light to someone’s darkness.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 

We need to teach our children starting as young as possible to treat people with kindness, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and to choose positive influences.  By doing so, they can make a huge difference and be real life heroes.  

Leo Buscaglia said, “Only the weak are cruel.  Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”  And I agree with Aesop when he stated, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  Beginning today, let’s all start a chain reaction of kindness without expecting anything in return.  If someone does ask how they can return the act of kindness, just ask them to pay it forward.  Kindness is contagious; therefore, let’s spread it far and wide.  By doing so, we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 29, 2013.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Hope for Humanity

Malal Yousafzai.  You may have heard of her.  She is the young Pakistani school girl who is an activist promoting the rights for education and for women.  In October 2012, this beautiful young woman was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunman who tried to silence her.  For days she remained unconscious and in critical condition.  The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of love and support, and since then, she has become a hero to many.  She now travels all over the world as a spokesperson for love and peace. 

In speaking of the member of the Taliban who shot her, she said, “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ, and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan, and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: Be Peaceful and Love Everyone."

At 16 years old, she has probably learned more in this short period of time than most of us are able to learn in a lifetime.  She gets it.  She knows that love, peace, kindness, and compassion really are the answers to life and she walks her talk.  She is joining the ranks of those she mentioned above as being a world spokesperson to teach unconditional love in order to bring about world peace.

It does not matter her race, religion, or where she lives.  She speaks to all of us.  But how many are going to listen and learn the truth of what she teaches?  There is an awakening occurring all over the world and people are beginning to learn that unconditional love is the foundation if we are ever to achieve real peace for all. 

What saddens me is that there are so many religions, denominations, and church leaders who have this wonderful opportunity to bring people together through the power of love, but instead, we are hearing the extremists propagate so much hate, bigotry, and racism through the pulpits, writings, and media.  People are starting to see the hypocrisy because they know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  It is said that God is love, but where is the love when such vitriol is being spewed forth?  People are using fear and guilt to try to control people to their way of believing.  Sure it may work for some, but it’s turning many more away.  We wonder why so many are turning their backs on God, religion, and church, and this is one of the very reasons why.  (I am definitely not pointing my fingers at any particular person or group of people; I’m speaking in generalities.)

People are desperate to be loved and embraced just the way they are.  They are tired of being judged and condemned just because they may not believe a particular way.  They are tired of being turned away from churches because of the way they look, their past experiences, or their lifestyle.  They know that Jesus was the epitome of unconditional love and he made this his greatest commandment.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  It was also made very clear in the Bible not to judge, and yet judging seems to be the norm any more.  Even though the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, even he gets it when he says, “My religion is kindness.” Why can’t we all just be kind to one another regardless of our differences?

I realize there are some who will not agree with me and that’s okay.  You will never hear me tell anyone that they have to believe the way I do or condemn them because they believe something different.  The lesson of unconditional love is one I am trying to learn myself.  It’s not always easy, especially when I see others, particularly in religion and politics, doing harm through their words and actions. 

Ms. Yousafzai’s example gives me hope.  Hope for humanity, our country, and our world.  As more and more people join the movement of love and peace, regardless of who they are, what they believe, or where they live, we know we move closer to achieving world peace, among all people, all religions, all cultures, and all walks of life.

Will you join me and the many others who are striving to bring people together?  Will you be the change you wish to see in the world?

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 8, 2013.

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