I needed to unplug, so as I left my apartment I purposely didn’t pick up my earbuds. It was a risky move since I use them as “protection” against unsolicited conversations and interactions in public. Today though, I needed to quiet my mind.
By the time I’d made it to the bus stop, I could already feel myself beginning to calm down. The sun was shining, I’d taken a few deep breaths, and I was feeling the benefits of being outside.
The bus pulled up, I hopped on board and made my way back to an open seat in front of a father and his young son. As I sat down, I could hear Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind.” Typically when people on the bus play music loud enough for other passengers to hear, it is a nuisance to me. Today though, I didn’t complain.
After Mr. Charles came The Temptations singing “My Girl.” I enjoyed the tunes, looked out the window and even began to eavesdrop as the man explained to his son that this music came long before the rap he listened to. When I heard the opening notes of Louis Armstrong’s version of “What a Wonderful World,” I exhaled. That song led to a much needed moment of clarity.
How Louis Armstrong Influenced Activate World
Here at Thin Difference, we’re in the midst of launching a new initiative called Activate World. As I sat on the bus that morning, we’d just sent out our first emails to a small pilot group in the hopes of getting feedback and suggestions before our official launch.
I’d received a note from a friend who I wanted in the group because I knew she’d pull no punches. I respect her opinions, and I knew she would share candid feedback. She did. In fact, she was brutally honest — and it crushed me.
While the email she sent wasn’t unkind, it was blunt. It was critical, and it was curt. It closed with this line, “Some of the emails kind of read in the same vein of ‘let’s be happy, here’s some self-help action items to get you there.’” While that phrase is open to interpretation, let me assure you, in context, it was not meant to be complimentary.
After I’d read her criticism, I carried it around with me for several hours. On the one hand, I was able to take the criticism from a colleague and apply it to the project. I appreciated that she took the time to offer feedback and respected her opinion. On the other hand, my heart hurt. Because she’s my friend, I took her criticism personally.
I wondered if I was the right person to be involved in Activate World. I wondered if Activate World was a worthwhile project to pursue. I wondered if I was naive to think that there was a place for Activate World in today’s world? With everything happening in our country, it’s hard to focus on the positive. It’s tough to celebrate the good. We struggle to connect, collaborate, and reach out to people we disagree with when we don’t see our leadership modeling that behavior.
And then I heard Louis Armstrong sing “What a Wonderful World.”
“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.”
As I sat on the bus on a sunny afternoon listening to a father share musical history with his son, I had a moment of clarity.
Armstrong recorded and released the song written by George David Weiss and Robert Thiele in 1967. What I know about that time is that it was complicated and frightening too. Despite the turmoil, Armstrong, Weiss, and Thiele found a way to celebrate some of the good. Their song challenged people to focus, even if just for a few minutes, on the positive.
Reassurance from an Unlikely Source
At that moment, I felt reassured that there is a place and a need for Activate World. As we consider how the project will unfold, we’re focusing on the fact that every change starts with one person and grows through connections. And while I don’t presume to believe we’ll touch as many hearts as Louis Armstrong did, at least we’ll reach a few. Maybe we can even activate them.
While I don’t agree with her phrasing, my friend almost nailed what Activate World is trying to do when she said, “let’s be happy, here’s some self-help action items to get you there.” I believe we’re thinking a little bit bigger than that. So I might rephrase it like this: We’re living in a complicated time. It can feel nearly impossible to connect in meaningful ways, to collaborate with people who look or think differently than we do, and to find joy in the moment. But, let’s do everything we can to do those things! Here are some small ways to take the first steps to get us there.
I’m thankful for my friend’s candor. I’m thankful for Louis Armstrong, moments to eavesdrop on the bus that lead to comforting realizations, and sunny afternoons. That doesn’t mean I’m turning a blind eye to things that I believe need to change in my community. It just means that even though it’s a challenge, I’m going to focus on the good occasionally too. Because, I don’t know about you, but moments of joy recharge me and motivate me to keep doing the hard work.
If you’re curious and want to get in on the ground floor of Activate World to watch the project unfold, join us.