I was awakened early Monday morning to the swishing sound of multiple text messages on my iPhone. It annoyed me a little, because I was tired.
I spent the previous week packing, making arrangements, donating furniture and stuffing a U-Haul van.
I’m moving my 83 year old mother out of her assisted living center in California. All because my wife and I decided it was time to change our lives.
The decision was not an impulsive one. Our son picked an out of state university to attend, which happened to be in an area we like and have friends.
I retired last December after 26 years in law enforcement. I was foot loose and fancy free. My wife was a hospice nurse, but ready for change and new experiences.
We moved and bought the perfect new house, close to friends and my son’s university. We convinced mom to move closer to us. We found her a wonderful assisted living community, just minutes from our new home.
Despite the drudgery of moving, everything was falling into place. Everything was going seamlessly.
Until my iPhone messages woke me up Monday morning. Reading the texts from my wife and concerned friends, it felt like the room got darker.
I learned that a madman with multiple rifles committed the largest mass murder in American history. And it all happened in Las Vegas.
The town we now call home.
The place I conviced my 83 year old mother to move to.
Watch the world burn
There’s a memorable scene in the Batman movie The Dark Knight, when Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s butler) tries to explain evil and anarchy:
“…some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
I had a long career in police work. Enough time and experience to witnesstragedy, ugliness and the endless capacity for human beings to hurt one another.
I grew to understand that, beyond motivators like anger, revenge and addiction, some people seem to be driven by pure evil. A perverse desire for anarchy and annihilation.
This kind of evil can be found in men and women. It’s why I modified Alfred’s quote to: “Some people want to see the world burn.”
We’ve seen this phenomena down through history and in many cultures. People of faith will tell you it’s Satan, smiling as he pulls the strings on his earthly puppets of destruction.
Behavioral scientists will point to everything from mental illness to childhood trauma.
Perhaps it’s a little of both. Either way, the result is always the same. Tragedy, death, fear, destruction, and a sense of despair.
Do the evil pyromaniacs win? Do the anarchists, killers, destroyers and haters get the last word? Do they get to watch the world burn?
We have a secret weapon. It’s subtle, but more powerful.
Every time tragedy strikes, we witness the deployment of our secret weapon. Throughout all of man’s history, our secret weapon has been there.
To restore order and faith. To give hope and recovery. To take back our purpose and human dignity.
Our secret weapon is love.
Before you sigh and say, “Oh no, not another poetic dreamer,” keep reading.
The power of compound interest
In the finance world, every investor understands the power of compound interest. It happens when the interest accruing to an amount of money in turn accrues interest itself. It requires time, but will grow into a large sum of money.
Let’s say you saved and banked $100 a year ago. It earned $2 in interest last year. This year, you’ll be earning interest on $102 (the original savings plus the interest earned).
It might not be a quick payoff, but compound interest can make you rich. The problem is that a lot of people are undisciplined. They want instant gratification.
People spend their interest instead of letting it grow.
The bank account of human dignity
Imagine someone performing a single act of human kindness. Maybe it’s a woman, holding the coffee shop door open for an elderly gentleman. It’s a thoughtful gesture and no doubt appreciated by the old guy. But it ends there.
Now imagine if the old guy starts holding the door open for other people. Perhaps he tells the boys at his health club about the kind woman who held the door for him. What if he inspires his buddies to start doing the same?
Grace in this world is a lot like compound interest. It doesn’t happen when people spend their interest. In other words, when people take for granted the kindness of others. Rather, it happens when they reinvest the interest. When they pay a good deed forward.
Right now, the bank account of human dignity is low. The world is grapplingwith war, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, political divisiveness, distrust and hate. People are talking at each other, not with each other.
We’ve witnessed severe weather and natural disasters in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Not to mention the devastating earthquakes in Mexico.
And now, a madman forever altered the lives of innocent victims and their loved ones in Las Vegas.
The bank account of human dignity is low right now. It desperately needs some deposits.
If it bleeds, it leads
Positive acts of kindness seldom lead on the cable news programs. It’s the violence, disasters, terrorism and drama that attract viewers.
Don Henley captured this reality best in his song Dirty Laundry. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:
We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond
Who comes on at five
She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry
We see the same phenomenon at traffic accidents, where motorists slow down (backing up traffic) in order to get a good look.
In a perverse way, people find death and destruction interesting. As long as they’re not the victims.
We need to change our thinking. We need to amplify our interest in kindness, positivity and the whispers of our better angels.
Craft a better world
Forget about your politics for a minute. Think back to when you were a kid on the playground. Simply playing and laughing with other kids you didn’t even know.
Somewhere along the way we start to grow up. We adopt ideologies and political parties and the arrogance of false certainty. We lose our childhood innocence and become “adults.”
It’s like we regress away from the kind, open minded and forgiving souls we were in our youth.
Maybe it’s time to embrace a touch of that childhood innocence. Maybe we can stop thinking we’re right all the time, and start treating everyone with basic human dignity. And more kindness.
John Lennon may have been a dreamer, but he tried to imagine a world without ugliness, hatred and war.
A few lyrics from his song Imagine:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
I know, some of you might be rolling your eyes, and I get it. Having been a cop for over a quarter century, I understand the real world. Sometimes the only way to stop a violent person is with force, not hugs.
Sometimes, the only way to ensure peace and security is through deterrence. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Even Mahatma Ghandi, in his The Doctrine Of The Sword, wrote the following:
“I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence.”
However, if we are going to craft a better world, we need to start a movement.A movement of kindness, respect and love.
We need to start making some major investments in the bank account of human dignity. We need to take advantage of compound interest and let those investments grow.
Glimmers of hope
The morning my wife texted me with news of the Las Vegas shooting, she was on her way to donate blood. She wasn’t the only one. So many people came out to donate, the wait time was hours long.
Stories emerged of selfless heroes who risked their lives to help others escape over fences and away from the gunfire.
We saw the same acts of selflessness and kindness with the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Folks like the “Cajun Navy.” Wikipedia described them this way:
The Cajun Navy are informal ad-hoc volunteer groups comprising private boat owners who assist in search and rescue efforts in Louisiana and adjacent areas. These groups were formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and reactivated in the aftermath of the 2016 Louisiana floods and Hurricane Harvey.
Just regular people who haven’t forgotten that the best of ourselves can be found in the service of others.
We see investments in the bank account of human dignity elsewhere, too. Like the Mexican earthquake “moles.” They’re an all volunteer force of individuals who go around the world, crawling through earthquake rubble and tight spaces to find and save victims.
Join the movement of kindness
Some people want to see the world burn. Kindness is the fire extinquisher that will stop the flames.
Next time you’re racing someone to the door at Starbucks, if you get there first, hold it open and invite the person behind you to enter.
Offer to carry an elderly woman’s groceries to her car.
Make a plate of cookies and take them over to the neighbor’s house. You know, the neighbor you’ve lived next to for a year, but still don’t know. Introduce yourself.
Purchase classroom supplies for your kid’s teachers and drop them off.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
It’s time we made love and kindness a movement in this country. It’s time we spent more time celebrating our best instincts, instead of this culture of egocentrism, divisiveness and hate.
There will always be broken people in the world, but our capacity for love and kindness is bigger than the flames of anarchy. That’s how we’ll defeat the haters among us.
One deposit of kindness after another.
Until the bank account of human dignity is full again, and our children can smile at a brighter future.
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons and write about life. Be kind and join my free email list. Just click on the cartoon above. In return, I’ll send you six pages of cartoons and notes on creativity. Let’s start building a kinder world together!
(Originally published in Personal Growth on Medium.com)