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Looking for the optimism online

We live in an era ruled by social norms and in a world where most people use technology and social media to speak on their opinions of current events. These platforms showcase a wide variety of beliefs on politics, religion, entertainment, and others, and everyone has an opinion. As an advocate for both social media and freedom of speech, I find myself often wandering the deep spaces of other people’s Facebook posts and comments to see other’s opinions on current issues. I often see hurtful comments about respective political affiliations and generational gaps as well as other personal attacks. These dividers are also apparent at the school where I work, with many school fights happening based on comments in the students’ feeds, and even sometimes based on who liked their posts. Occasionally, I find these virtual divisions overwhelming and find myself pondering, “Why do we live in such a hateful society?”

It is then that I am reminded of one of City Year’s founding stories. This founding story is known as The Traveler. Based on a West African folktale, The Traveler is the story of an elderly and wise gentleman who lived in a village. He would often spend his days sitting in the shade of a big tree in the center of the village, reading books and talking to passersby. One day, a traveler came upon his village and stopped and said, “Old man, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?”

The elderly gentleman looked up at him and replied, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found on your travels.”

The traveler scowled and said, “Old man, I have met people who cheat, steal, and aren’t kind to strangers, and people who don’t look out for one another.”

The elderly gentleman looked up and, with a faint look of sadness in his eyes, said, “Oh my friend, those are the people you will find in my village.” The traveler kicked the dirt under his feet, scoffed, and marched off towards the village.

By and by, as the elderly gentleman continued to enjoy his day, another traveler came walking through the village. Once again, the traveler stopped and asked, “Please kind sir, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?” The elderly gentleman said, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found in your travels.”

The traveler replied, “I have found people who are kind and welcoming of strangers, people who care for one another, and people who love. These are the people I have met in my travels.”
The elderly gentleman looked up and, with the faintest smile in his eyes, said, “My friend, those are the people you will find in my village.”

The lesson of this story is that we will be presented with numerous different opinions and attitudes about many different things. If we expect to read belittling comments on social media from people who don’t have similar viewpoints to ourselves, then we may begin to think that all that oppose our viewpoints have a shared attitude. But when we reflect on the story of the traveler, we can begin to realize that attitude and perspective play a big role in our own personal biases about other groups of people. Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the hate, which can leave everlasting imprints on our minds of how the world seems to be, b optimism can be found everywhere—even on social media. We must be proactive in searching for and taking to heart the positive, optimistic posts on social media instead of only the negative ones. It is only then that we will truly be able to come together across differences and create a better world for us all.

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