Sometimes I hate social media. I mean, it’s a great tool, and it helps us stay in touch with family and friends who live far away. But does it seem to you that lately there are an awful lot of folks out there just itching to fight? To slam each other in Facebook rants or Twitter wars, without actually thinking about the human being on the receiving end of their words?
It’s exhausting. Literally exhausting–how some of these folks have the energy to keep fighting over the most trivial things is beyond me. Who really wants to blast a total stranger for feeding their kid a peanut butter sandwich or wearing leggings outside the house? The body shaming, the mommy shaming, the political intrigue, the complete and utter nonsense that we have created–it’s time to stop. We need to be nicer to each other. Every person is a human being, with both flaws and redeeming qualities. And let’s face it–it’s exhausting being outraged all the time. Sometimes it’s easier to just be kind.
If you’re looking to stop the madness for a while and slow down, you may want to turn off the computer completely and read a book instead. (Books aren’t constantly updating their social media.) I’ve found a few books lately that helped to restore my faith in humanity after reading about yet another stupid Twitter war between celebrities who have a space-cadet kind of concept of reality. Hopefully you’ll find these stories nourishing to your soul.
The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this story was actually a big deal back in the 1980s and 1990s. Lia Lee was a Hmong child living in California with her family, refugees from Laos. When Lia developed a serious case of epilepsy, cultures collided. Lia’s family didn’t speak English, and her doctors didn’t speak Hmong. And while both sides of the equation wanted to do what was best for her, a very real cultural difference meant that they couldn’t quite agree on what was best for Lia.
Fadiman places this medical case within the wider context of the history of the Hmong people–their lifestyle of small villages high in the mountains of Asia, their religious beliefs and cultural practices, and their support of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. She emphasizes that the Hmong were persecuted for most of their history as a people, and yet managed to maintain one of the most distinctive, solid, independent cultures the U.S. has ever accepted onto its shores.
The Hmong reality is placed side by side with that of the American doctors, who are trying desperately to get Lia’s seizures under control. Except they don’t understand the family–and the family doesn’t understand them. The doctors’ take on Lia’s illness is that it can be solved through medicine, but the family believes that illness is something that takes place in the soul. It’s not just a language barrier. It’s a cultural barrier.
I won’t tell you what happens to Lia. You may already know. Her case was an important one that opened up the discussion of cross-cultural medicine and highlighted issues in a medical system that is geared towards one particular cultural mindset. Ultimately, despite the tragedies of illness, this is a book about love and understanding, and how all human beings, even those who don’t look or talk or dress or think like we do, are deserving of compassion.
Wish You Happy Forever (Jenny Bowen)
Sometimes, we don’t see past the end of our own noses until something happens to wake us up. In Jenny Bowen’s case, adopting a little girl from China opened up her eyes and her heart to a larger issue–the status of young girls in Chinese orphanages. Inspired by how her own daughter began to thrive once she had a family of her own, Jenny created and worked tirelessly to establish the Half the Sky Foundation–a charity focused on early childhood education and creating nurturing environments in orphanages across China. Her goal was to help young girls receive the education and help they so needed in order to be bright, lively, productive members of society.
Along the way, Jenny learns about the frustrations of bureaucracy and the heartbreak of corruption (one orphanage official sells all the toys she buys for the children and lines his own pockets). However, she also learns about the amazing things that well-meaning people can achieve when they persevere. Not only does Jenny succeed in partnering with the Chinese government and open early childhood education centers in orphanages across China, but she and Half the Sky eventually manage to convince Chinese officials of the benefits of the program. Today, they conduct training for teachers to nurture children across the entire country, not just a handful of people at selected sites.
Kisses From Katie (Katie Davis)
First things first: this is a nonfiction book about a Christian missionary in Africa. Katie unapologetically talks about God and her love for Jesus, and she has no intention of hiding it. In fact, her faith is the centerpiece of her entire experience in Uganda and the work she is doing there. Once you realize that, everything else falls into place.
Katie explains how she wound up teaching kindergarten in Uganda, and how her desire to help the people around her grew into a full-fledged ministry. On the first pass, she might sound naive (that was my first impression, too), a nineteen year old girl with dreams of changing the world. But as she tells the story of how teaching kindergarten led to providing school supplies for 100 students, which led to adopting some of the local girls as her own, which led to the creation of a non-profit organization that regularly provides schooling, meals, and healthcare for hundreds of Ugandan children, Katie really comes into her own.
She doesn’t shy away from the grit. She tells stories about the HIV and poverty and sickness that surrounds her, she explains how her heart breaks every time she sees a child hungry and sick, and she admits that it can be overwhelming. But ultimately, her big heart is inspiring. She is determined to be the kindest, most loving version of herself, and that light shines through in each page. Maybe she was naive when she started out, but she is certainly tougher than I could ever hope to be.
Today, Amazima has been working to improve the lives of people in the area around Jinja, Uganda for ten years. With over 800 students impacted, two million meals served, and 250 employees in the Jinja area, Amazima has also opened its own school for students to learn and grow in a healthy, nurturing environment. All because Katie had a dream to help the people around her, and she kept the faith and stuck with it even when the odds seemed insurmountable.
Sometimes, it just takes one person to be kind. The ripples of that kindness can have a wide-ranging effect. You don’t have to go halfway around the world to be nice to people, either. Just be kind to each other–your next door neighbor, that other mom in the carpool line, the guy in front of you in the express line at the grocery store who has eleven items instead of ten. You never know what is going on in someone else’s life that causes them to do the things they do. Instead of fuming, let’s try practicing patience. (Lord knows I need more practice!)
If you’d like to know more about Amazima Ministries (Katie’s program) and the Half The Sky Foundation (Jenny’s program), and how you can help these amazing organizations, visit https://amazima.org/ and https://onesky.org/.