We have for so long lived with the widely accepted idea that in order to survive in this cruel, unfair world, we must work to harden ourselves. That in order to persevere through the pain we will inevitably feel, we must find ways to build up our own armor, our own self-constructed shields. That we must never break, therefore we are to spend our days learning how not to feel.
As young people growing up in a world wrought with conflict and violence, oftentimes in our own backyards, we are taught this is simply how the world works. And if we want to survive, we must accept this as status quo and bend ourselves to fit the mold those before us created.
As kids, my generation and those that followed watched the slow destruction of a peaceful global equilibrium. And even those of us lucky enough to grow up in an environment inclusive to love and compassion, we still witnessed the rest of the world move forward with iron fists.
We watched as our country was attacked. We watched as our country went to war in brutal retaliation. We watched as that war spread like the most persistent of viruses, extending far beyond its intended reach, winding itself throughout the construct of the international community, involving us in destruction and violence and death in the most innocent corners of the globe.
We watched as our black brothers and sisters continued to be senselessly gunned down. We watched justice fail those of color over and over again.
We watched as the LGBTQ community continued to be forced to fight for their rights. As those seeking the right to simply love freely were chastised and dehumanized and made to feel as though they did not belong in a world that has failed them time and again.
As those seeking opportunity and refuge from prosecution were turned away. As communities were isolated because their simply led lives deemed them nonessential to the national dialogue. As women continued to earn less and achieve less and be less in a society disguised by this facade of equality yet in reality only works for white skinned males. As poverty and inequality and hatred ran rampant in our streets and communities.
We watched as those in power turned a blind eye, going about their daily lives with their heads held high, too blinded by their pride to admit they had failed.
But change is coming. This new generation, which has come of age in a world naive to progress, will not follow in the complacent footsteps of the generations that came before them.
Two weeks ago at the March for Our Lives, I watched an eleven year old deliver a speech so eloquent, so inclusive, so enlightened, she didn’t quite seem real.
On that same stage I watched a senior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, still recovering from the horrific tragedy only a month old, look out at a crowd of 800,000 in pure silence for 6 minutes with tears streaming down her safe, her gaze steadfast and her eyes glued to the captivated audience comprising all walks of life from across this nation.
Two young teens from the south side of Chicago spread their message of love and community and hope despite the fact that this society has long silenced their voices.
A high school student from south LA tell the story of losing her brother to a gun, as she herself learned to dodge bullets before even learning how to read.
And since then we have watched as those kids, barely beyond adolescence, fend off attack after attack from adults who find some cruel pleasure in belittling children that watched their friends and classmates die at the hand of a gun.
As they have continuously called for increased exposure of not only their own stories but the stories of their marginalized peers who have no doubt been unevenly impacted by the epidemic of gun violence.
As they have lifted each other up and served as the voice for those who have not yet had the chance to speak. As they have raised the voices of those who have been shouting out without response for far too long.
As they have pressured lawmakers and not only taken to social media but also to the streets, continuing the momentum of the March by spending their spring breaks walking across their states to their elected officials offices and organizing town halls to initiate dialogue between constituents and their representatives.
As they have somehow been everywhere at once, their eyes constantly peeled for a new avenue of conversation, their minds constantly open for discussions with those who do not necessarily agree with them.
You hear these stories and watch as these kids take on this fight and can’t help but fear for them. That despite all of the love and compassion and empathy they have in their hearts, that eventually something will do it… something will be too much to take, and they will break, harden, fail.
So let their hearts be soft.
Soft. Not in a way that they will crumble at even the slightest touch.
But soft enough to feel the pains of others by making space to look their neighbor in the eye and, no matter their race or class or religion or position of power, see them as their equal.
Soft enough to notice where society has failed, while also understanding the beauty that still exists in a world plagued by such devestation.
Soft enough to recognize the difference in privilege and to use that privilege for the betterment of society.
Soft enough to change the world without a self-serving agenda.
So let their hearts be soft, and their minds be open, and their gaze be wide.
Change is coming.