“Empathy is not only a personal feeling; it can be a potent force for political and social change. And thus the suppression or denial of empathy is a deliberate part of a cynical calculus.” – Dan Rather
When I was in the 6th grade I read a poem during my elementary school graduation. This was at a time in my life when I was really into Chicken Soup for the Soul. I was inspired by this poem and also to read in front of people. When I relayed my hesitation to my teacher, Ms. Blackburn, she asked me, “Are you going to go for it or let your fear stop you?” So I went for it. Looking back I feel silly about that poem I read. It had nothing to do with anything related to the graduation but I was an inspired 12-year-old.
When I graduated from the University of Washington I turned my back to our commencement speaker, Robert Gates. I was one of a handful of students who did this for his pro-war mentality. I got booed and told to sit down by my peers. I remember my dad telling me, “at least we knew where you were!”
When I was in graduate school, I was nicknamed Captain Planet because not only did I care about the wellbeing of people, I cared deeply for marginalized communities, I cared deeply for endangered animals, I cared deeply for the environment, and on and on it goes.
Now as an adult, I see green belts destroyed left and right in my community and I feel like I too am losing my home, just the same as the critters who took refuge there. I care…A LOT. And I believe the world is a better place for it.
Every time we decide to care about something other than ourselves, we move the needle forward.
We are doing our part in creating a group consciousness that is more evolved than the last. People often ask me how I could be a social worker and choose to see humanity on their worst days. The answer is that I care and I believe in the power of every interaction large and small. It can be easy to be overwhelmed and feel like the world is a lost cause. Fear whispers in your ear, “nothing will get better…and nothing matters.”
Sure, if you decide to look at all the negativity in the world then that is what you will see. And, the needle will continue to move forward because some radical minds hold the pain and continue on. When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified on behalf of her sexual assault from Brett Kavanaugh, some saw a missed moment. In significant ways it was…but it also moved the needle forward. Because what I saw was a woman who spoke her truth despite her voice trembling. I saw how she was given a platform. I saw how people who cared flocked to the State’s capital in protest of the appointee and in solidarity with her. She did something tied to integrity, realizing the outcome was beyond her control. She is an inspiration to me and so many others.
I know I speak from the utmost place of privilege when I say that Donald Trump’s presidency has moved the needle forward. I did not have my children placed in cages, I did not get denied entrance when trying to seek asylum, and I do not have my future in jeopardy as a Dreamer. But I did experience a shift. I realized that a man can joke about sexually assaulting a woman and people are willing to look past that. I not only saw my minority status but I finally felt it…and I am better because of this. I am louder, bolder, brighter and willing to take up space in this world because I need to move the needle forward for the next generation. For our brothers and sisters of color, the racism they have always experienced is now exposed as we see White Nationalism emboldened. As Americans, we need to see this.
I moved the needle forward when I knocked on doors during the 2018 midterms and we finally flipped a predominantly Republican district and gave it to a democratic woman. As someone who feels the pain of others as if it were my own, this is both a blessing and a curse.
But I am not worried about changing the world because I know that every act of kindness, every act of integrity, every time I care too much, I move the needle forward.