“You Poked My Heart.”

I know that, in some ways, this post is in direct contradiction to my last one. In other ways, it goes hand-in-hand. Either way, it’s something I just have to write.

I browse the news frequently, whether it’s via shares on my Facebook feed, tweets on Twitter, or articles on major news sites. I try to focus on the happy stuff, but to be a responsible citizen (and a good social studies teacher) I know that I need to be aware of everything that’s going on.

Walking by the same homeless folks everyday, watching the single mother of six fall asleep with her kids on the train, seeing the need right here in my own city, that’s hard. Reading about the levels of extreme poverty and suffering in other parts of the world, that’s a sobering one to swallow. But it’s what people do to each other that really breaks my heart. Seeing the amount of racism, classism, sexism, and all the other -isms in this country is bad enough, but watching the violence and terror inflicted on a global scale makes my heart hurt. It makes my heart physically hurt.

How is it that we (and by we, I mean the human race as a crude generalization) can lack empathy in such a profound way? I’ve never understood how any group of people can believe they are right while the rest of the world is wrong; I can even less understand how anyone could use those beliefs as a justification for such horrific brutality. What has gone wrong with our race that we can look at another person — someone who has the same parts, the same needs, the same basic fears and desires — and not see the universality of the human condition? How can we not recognize ourselves in the faces of others?

And how, how can we possibly expect the children who grow up seeing this level of hatred and violence to rise above it? I do believe there are some who will be able to use their experiences as motivation to advocate for peace. But who could blame a child who has seen his home decimated, his family destroyed, his chances of a “normal” life obliterated, who could blame him for choosing anger? Depression? Retaliation?

I truly believe that mankind cannot be changed by a few individuals. It’s a grassroots kind of change; it has to be. But how can we achieve that level of progress if we cannot get out of our own way? How can we prevent our own extinction if we continue these cycles of abuse?

I said this once in a previous post, and I believe it to be a simple, yet powerful truth: Adults shape children; children grow up to be adults. The cycle is never-ending, and yet we do not seem to truly grasp its implications. Children carry the dysfunction they learn with them into adulthood and, most often, pass it on to the next generation.

Who do we change first? And how can we change one without the other? How many cycles will it take before we begin to understand that each and every one of us plays a crucial part in both our present and our future?

Please, world, wake up. Stop poking my heart.

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