We’re not even a month into 2017, and it’s already established itself as the year of huge, sweeping events. People in their thousands are waging war against the things that wound, disgust and enrage them. They’re speaking out. Their feet are coming down. They’re taking no more.
Sadness fell heavy upon me while reading Tobias Stone’s 2016 article on how history will shed light on what comes after Trump and Brexit. Stone is deeply intimate with human history, and spoke of how we “have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self-imposed to some extent or another”.
There’s no denying that history is riddled with echoes. Some may ask why we even try to rise above our innate hostility, especially if we’re destined to fall prey to it every half-century.
On the bus home, I came across another article. One that melted my dejection like dawn upon the frost.
Celeste Ng, author of EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, broke my heart with her 20 small acts of resistance list on Teen Vogue. It’s part survival kit, part love letter to anyone who knows we must do better despite history’s insistence that it’s beyond us. It’s for anyone who knows we can rise above the playbook of years past, and work alchemy through our outrage into something that truly transforms lives.
It’s for anyone who knows that all great stories start with a #smallact.
If you haven’t read the article, please do so now. It’ll remind you of what you knew already; government officials are meant to hear you. They’re waiting to hear not only where they’re going wrong but what they’re doing right.
I know you cringe when your family shout you down over this stuff. I know how small and hemmed in it makes you feel. Why is it that the ones we love the most can make us so regretful we ever spoke up? Luckily, you know the importance of mature, even-toned conversation, and that minds seldom change overnight. You’ll try again tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you judge is right. Water knows it needs patience and time to crack the rock, and so do you.
There’s more good news – small acts don’t always need to come with spit and warcries. Small acts can be like the sun coaxing the coat from the wind-battered man; so gentle and silent in their action that they’ve worked their magic before you even know it.
Let small acts transform your relationships. Let mouths speak more kindly. Let ears listen more deeply. Let care flow more fiercely and time go more gladly. Feel their hands grow warmer in yours. See how their face glows when you make them smile. Share your snacks with them, share your fears with them, your favourite book with them. Sit in the now with them, not the shivering future or the snarling past. Be the loving eyes you want to see looking back at you.
Let small acts transform your workplace. Speak up when you see someone pushed down.
Save an extra seat at the lunch table. Put the phone away when waiting for meetings and ask them about their day. Tell them you picked up some lozenges to help with that cold they can’t shake. Demand that their hard work is recognised. Check that email about pay rises they’re about to send for typos. Ask them what they’re doing on the weekend, and make that coffee date. Offer to help, and mean it. Expect nothing back, only a hope that they’ll pass it on.
Let small acts transform your neighbourhood: Smile at your neighbours, especially those who know some other place as their birth home. See the apprehension in their eyes. Hear the small voice inside them, the one that wonders if they’ll escape the word ‘other’. Your morning greeting, your table of free goodies on the front lawn, your gentle wish for them to drive carefully on these icy roads…all of these things matter. Capture hate on camera when you can. Parry the barbs of the bigoted with your love and presence. Maeril showed you how, so you know it can be done.
Know that your elders have seen unrest come and go. Ask them to tell you about the time they faced these problems. Make them a cup of tea as you do. Mow their lawn. Ask them if they want anything picking up from Tesco. Put their wheelie bins out on your way to work or school. Set up that DVD player they’ve been scared of since their son-in-law bought it one Christmas. Press play on the I Love Lucy DVD you bought off Amazon, and laugh with her, with them. Let them know their joy is heard, and valued.
Write to your MP and let them know you appreciate their compassion for low income families, for failing schools and crumbling playgrounds. They’re human too. They need feedback, so provide it. Attend town meetings. Promote local events. Buy from local shops. Wish your bus driver good morning (I’ve been doing this for two years, and have only been yelled at once, which is a record for Leeds).
If you REALLY want to put small acts into motion, Read Celeste’s article. Take notes. Put the lessons into action and share them with those around you. Inspire them to add their own pebbles to this vast lake we call humanity. Count up every small act you can. Hold each one to your heart, know its power, and look for more.
I know this world makes you feel like the only good deeds worth doing are big, loud and earth-shattering.
I know this world seems indifferent to the care and energy you bestow by just living your life.
Yes, we must be courageous. Always.
Yes, we must protect those who suffer with our words, our stance and our principles. Always.
But when the dust settles, and silence descends, please know that your daily deeds remain priceless, my love. Your kindness is changing the world, just as the tiny pebble changes the vast lake.
One ripple at a time.