Can We Change the World?


I have a day job. I work for a music school that I have been with for many years. Last weekend at the end of the year recitals, I spent 3 days with a diverse, kind and caring group of people. I watched hundreds of families, children and teachers of all colors, ethnic and religious backgrounds come together to celebrate, create and cheer each other on. At the end of each day I sat around a table with a talented group of people from all walks of life to celebrate the day's accomplishments. It is a group of people who share common goals: making music, helping children learn to express themselves and making the world a better and more creative place. On the last day, as I looked around the table at all of these people celebrating music and life and positivity, I felt thankful for that moment of peace, gratitude and brotherhood in a shared set of positive values. I didn't know yet about the mass shooting in Orlando earlier that day. When I got home I caught up on the awful news, kissed my sleeping children and went to bed with a heavy heart.

Once again I am left wondering - how do you explain these tragedies to your kids? How do you proceed as a human, as a parent and as an artist? How do you continue on in a world that seems to value destruction so highly? How do you raise children to be kind and caring in the face of violence, fear and bigotry? How do you continue to be kind and understanding yourself when your own anger and the anger of the world seem to be taking over? As an artist, what kind of art can you possibly make that can make sense of any of it or even help to make things better? How do you ever make real sense of any of it? The short answer is: You can't. You will never fully make sense of what goes on in the world. Ever. Our human history is so long, so complex and so convoluted that there is and will never be an easy answer to any of it.

I don't tend to comment much on the political end of things. I certainly have my very strong opinions, which I am happy to discuss one-on-one when asked, but generally I shy away from public pronouncements of my specific views. So I choose to address the most recent event as I would address it with my children since they are the future of this crazy planet:

The world is screaming all kinds of things. The world has screamed things since the dawn of men on this earth. Today we can hear it all more loudly and more insistently than ever before in our human history because of how connected we all are. Even in the midst of this confusing and conflicted time, we all have choices.

I can see someone of a different skin color than mine and choose to fear them, or I can choose to be kind and try to understand our cultural differences. I can see someone of a different sexual orientation and I can choose to hate them or I can choose to seek out our common understandings. I can look at someone whose actions on the surface are bigoted and racist and I can hate them for their viewpoints, or I can try to understand WHY they are drawing those conclusions about people and work toward a civil conversation about how they got to that place. I can see someone of a different religious belief as a threat to my own beliefs, or I can learn about their beliefs and culture and understand that at the core of it all, we all are human and we all basically want the same things.

There are people I love on every end of the spectrum as far as viewpoints are concerned. None of them are ignorant. None of them are stupid. I have people I care about deeply that are NRA supporters, or veterans, or people that have been cruelly discriminated against because of their skin color, gender or sexual orientation (and sometimes all three at the same time). Currently I am watching the majority of these people that I love be divisive, dismissive and bigoted toward each other... but I still love them all. I can't help it. At the end of the day, most people are good people.

Most people just want what they feel is best for themselves and their families. Sometimes that means lovingly reaching out into the world to try to make a small change or sometimes that means loudly fighting against an injustice, or sometimes that means buying a gun so that they feel safe. At the heart of it, people want the same fundamental things. People are scared and making their way in the world the best way they know how.

Every person thinks that the mountain from which they view things is the right mountain to be sitting on. The important thing is to come to your own, educated conclusions about what you think is right. Once you have done that, then try to UNDERSTAND why the person with the opposing view from yours feels the way they do and talk to them in a way that you both can listen to each other's points of view. Everyone thinks they are right. EVERYONE. The true mark of being a grown up is being able to look past your view of right, have a civil discussion and try to work toward a solution that gives everyone some of what they are looking for. No one can ever, really, truly WIN at anything. And it's really not about winning. It's about trying to be FAIR.

I can't change the whole world. I can only change myself. I can't change my neighbor's mind, but I can live a life that embodies the things that I hold valuable and that I want to pass on to my children with the hope that others will see my choices as a noble way to live. I can choose to be a part of organizations that I feel have value in making the world a better place. I can sit at a table with my fellow friends, family, coworkers and artists and know that whatever happens, I will have chosen the path that holds true to my heart and a path that my kids can be proud of someday. I can choose to talk openly and lovingly with the people I care about, even if we fundamentally disagree. That is the world I want to live in. That is the world I want my kids to grow up in. I want a world where everything may not be perfect, but where people can understand that the more black and white we are in our thinking, the more opportunities we lose for true understanding. I want a world where people can stop judging, hating, pointing fingers and shooting each other. I want a world where people consciously seek to understand and then work toward compromise.

The world isn't perfect. I have no illusions that it ever will be. Study our human history for long and you quickly come to the conclusion that things have always been as bad as they are today and oftentimes worse. Wherever you choose to dip into history, it is just a different time, a different enemy and a different form of bigotry. I can't control the whole world. In my tiny corner of this planet I will continue to make art. I will continue to teach music. I will continue to raise kind and understanding children. I will continue to talk to my loved ones of all beliefs and viewpoints and seek to understand each of them. It's not radical and I don't think it's unrealistic, but I believe all of us can at least work to change this world.

One kindness at a time.

© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.

Illustration by Krysta Bernhardt "Kindred Spirits"