Recently the crew from Bus 52 stopped by South Hancock Elementary in order to document the work that the TeachUp! Program has been doing there. Bus 52 is itself a non-profit organization: “Bus 52 is a year long project devoted to reminding and reconnecting America to its roots of community, innovation and improvement. Every week, the team will film, upload and post videos and articles about people from every kind of circumstance confronting challenges in their community through innovative ways. The people and their stories, roughly one hundred in total, will be presented as a patchwork of American community innovation, and will serve to ignite the minds of those watching, further spurring their involvement in their own communities.”
Talking to Gelb, he mentioned that one of the things that started his thinking about a project like this was looking around and seeing all of the negative media in the world – media that focused on the things that were problematic and going wrong all around us. And this is a problem that has long been interesting to me.
The problem is that this emphasis on violence in media is disproportionate: “a recent report released by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, California, stated that while homicide rates dropped 33% in this country from 1990 to 1998, homicide news coverage on network television increased 473%” (Potter 105-106). Although there were fewer crimes committed, coverage of these types of crimes increased significantly. “Studies by George Gerbner and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that people who are heavy television viewers, including viewers of television news shows, believe their communities are much more dangerous than do light television viewers,” (Postman and Powers 23). In addition to disproportionate reporting, the acts themselves are often sensationalized. For example, suicide is often described in a way that portrays it as an act committed by a healthy person who is highly emotional or even heroic, despite the fact that studies show mental illness is an issue in almost 90% of cases (Potter 110-111).
I believe that sharing positive stories from around the country is a step in the right direction. We naturally tend to think that the world around us is like what we hear about. If we’re bombarded by stories about crime and violence, we’re going to think the world is a scary place. And it’s so easy to focus on these negatives, especially because they attract viewers and help sell media. But we truly need to hear about the stories of the people who are out there working hard to make a difference. I recently ran across the following passage that resonated with me:
It is in our nature to try and allow the bad to define us. We lived in a world where mistakes and wrongdoings were news, and do-gooders were ignored if not mocked. Or worse, suspected of ulterior motives. – TW Brown in Zomblog
Of course, there is a strong argument that this frame of mind is due largely to the way we have evolved:
Without the Bitching Gene, we never would have conquered the Earth and ruined it for all other large species. There would be only a few thousand of us, and nobody would have invented the alphabet. Problem-solving hominid species who sat around appreciating everything didn’t put the full weight of their brain power behind obsessing about new problems, and thus didn’t pass on as many genes as problem-solving species who did nothing but concentrate on problems… We owe all our good stuff to our inability to appreciate it. For that we should be grateful. – Joe Quirk in Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women
At some level, there is certainly a need to recognize what is wrong with the world, because it’s only then that we can understand what it is that can be improved. However, I think a huge difference has arisen in the past few hundred years. Humans now have access, thanks to globalization and mass media, to all of the problems happening every day across the entire globe. And I truly believe that being bombarded by all of these problems can have the tendency to overwhelm and disillusion rather than motivate us.
I think that disillusionment has been evident recently through some of the feedback I’ve seen on the recent Kony 2012 movement that has spread across social media. I can no longer count the number of comments I’ve seen that don’t care at all, or are even upset that other people care and would spend any energy at all trying to work on a problem like this because of where it’s happening. When you’re overwhelmed, when all you see every day are just how many problems there are in the world, you can burn out. You can begin to believe that there’s simply no way to actually be able to make any difference.
Even if we are, in a sense, hard-wired to focus on the problems, I believe that an important part of the good life is taking time to truly appreciate the good things we have and celebrate the progress that we are able to make.
Along those same lines, it was an honor to be selected by Bus52 for a story. Their research team had found out about us and they got in touch with us to set up this filming. Sometimes I think we can all get bogged down in the day-to-day details of the work that we do and it’s hard to see the bigger picture. But moments like this can really help us step back and think about that big picture. I can look at the interns I’m managing and really see the impact each of them is making in their school and community, and how I’m helping do that. Having been part of the communications team, I’ve been the one crafting a lot of our videos and social media presence, so seeing someone else come in and craft their own story about our organization gives me a chance to look at it with fresh eyes and really appreciate what it is we’re doing all over again.
What I’m taking away from this experience is that good inspires good. Hearing about Bus52 and interacting with them was motivating. And clicking through their website and listening to the other stories they’ve covered is motivational. It helps me dig down and redouble my own efforts. Even if we want to do good – even if we are doing good – it’s important that we’re not alone. The more we interact with others and the more we see the good they’re doing, the more we are ourselves inspired to act or continue to act.
So share those good stories. Share your successes. Let us work together to keep making the world around us a better place. Yes, there are problems, but yes, we can make a difference when we try.
What’s inspired you lately?
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