“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mister Rogers
The world can often look and feel like a scary place. Whether it’s the news, social media, or even our own communities, we may see chaos and division, violence or destruction. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but in the wake of yet another heartbreaking act of hatred, it can be difficult to find the good. In instances like these, what we can find, as Mister Rogers so eloquently tells us, are the helpers.
What isn’t broadcast on every news station or newspaper headline are the incredible acts of kindness, courage, and love that total strangers exhibit to those in times of crisis and need. A lone gunman may get his name splashed across the media, but when you look past that, you’ll find armies of people showing up and caring for others.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a storm that ravaged Houston, Texas, people were trapped in their homes unable to get help due to high flood waters. From this disaster, the Cajun Navy was reactivated. This Dunkirk-style mobilization of civilians with fishing and recreational boats was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and came together again in response to Hurricane Harvey. These individuals navigated flood waters, saving those who needed immediate help when government and law enforcement aid couldn’t respond quickly enough.
The day after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a man named Tim Stan, father of two, walked through the grocery store and noticed how each person seemed to look him in the eye and nod—as though they were looking for any kind of reassuring connection. That night, Tim got an idea. He wrote out a simple message, white letters on a green background “We Are Sandy Hook – We Choose Love.” The next day he took 200 copies to downtown Sandy Hook asking shops if they would like one to hang their window. The response was overwhelming. Soon, every shop had this message of unity and love in full view. It eventually made its way to two highways billboards and become the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to educating adults and students on the signs of gun violence.
And most recently, a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. While this tragedy is still raw, you can, even now, find the helpers. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a local newspaper, has an entire webpage dedicated to posting messages of love, support, and condolences to the victims and their families. There are more messages posted than you could possibly count. All “strangers.”
The theme here may be obvious, but I will illuminate it anyway. The helpers, the messengers of love, the rescuers, are all normal people. Regular citizens of communities who offered their love because they wanted to. They offered their help because they could. This is the true spirit of unity.
Each of us is capable of living this in our lives and, as you can see from the examples above, it doesn’t take anything more than willingness. Rav Berg likened an individual’s capacity for creating unity to a seed, “the seed that contains all of the subsequent versions of that seed—the root, the branch, the leaf, the fruit. All of these will diversify and ultimately emerge separately into physical reality, into a world that appears to be governed by time, space, and motion.” The smallest actions were taken by regular individuals, and their effect is still felt today.
This is the incredible power of a single person, of a single helper. When we act with a consciousness of unity, with the belief that no one is truly separate from us, we create connections that extend far beyond our lives.