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Amid grim headlines take note of humankind’s unsung heroes

By Dr. Benjamin Garber | Jul 1, 2018

I’m finding it harder and harder to see beyond weekly school shootings and daily megalomaniacal, self-destructive political insanity. I’m aware that

I tend to perseverate over lava flows that evaporate entire towns, floods and earthquakes and tsunamis that abruptly rip people’s lives apart, and the exponentially increasing flood of images documenting the exponential deterioration of our planet.

Part of this is, of course, the intravenous, open-bore, constant tide of news that flows out of my various screens and into my various senses. I admit that I need my cell phone the way that an emphysema patient needs her oxygen cannister. I now catch myself watching streaming video on my laptop while I thumb through email on my phone with the TV streaming internet content in the background. I am not proud of this.

“Alexa: Please fix me.”

Neither am I proud of where and when I tune in. The first thing that I do upon waking is snag my glasses and my cell. To be polite about it, the cell phone has become a necessary part of my daily ablutions. But before you start laughing and pointing fingers, think about how many times you’ve walked into a public restroom only to find that the person using the next stall over, shoes and crumpled pants visible beneath the metal dividing wall, loudly engaged in a business deal by cell phone?

My media addiction, perseverative thoughts and toileting habits might be irrelevant (and certainly wouldn’t belong here) if I was alone. I am not.

I know without asking that you do the same. I’d bet money that your cell phone is right this moment within reaching distance and that some other media source is simultaneously playing in the background as you read this article. And your bathroom habits? I’ll leave that to you.

Even then, having established by silent vote that you and I share this affliction, these observations might still be irrelevant were it not for the sake of our kids.

Kids. Children. Those short people with long white wires growing out of their ears and thumbs mounted on gimbles like fleshy joysticks allowing them to text message up to five hundred words a minute. Never mind that at least half those “words” are in a language we don’t speak and didn’t teach them. A language populated by alphanumerics like “CUL8R” and regressive non-verbal symbols that look like so many miniature cave wall paintings.

Its because of kids that our shared digital distractedness, perseveration, and cynicism matter. Its because of kids that we parents have an urgent responsibility to stem the tide, to stopper the IV flow of news, to rediscover screen-free time. Its because of kids that we must tune out and turn off the devices, turn to and reintroduce ourselves to our offspring.

Its because of kids that we must make the time and create the opportunity to rebuild hope and optimism and a positive sense of humanity.

How? Sometimes finding hope in the digital flood can seem as impossible as finding drinking water while you’re lost at sea. Its easy to give up, mistaking that frustrated, overwhelmed, distrustful bad taste in your mouth for the whole picture. That not just the planet, but the species, has been corrupted. Admit it, you’ve had those moments. I know that I have. And when we think this way, so too do our kids. But stop. Before you let the poisons that are sensationalized and exaggerated and endlessly repeated and force-fed through your earbuds permanently corrode your synapses, think again.

Yes, of course, there’s the simple and pure beauty of your children as they sleep. There’s the goodness and fulfillment that many people find in spiritual and religious practices. There’s the wonder and glory of a sunrise or a sunset or a starry night. There’s the kindness of a stranger who stops to help another.

And there’s Uber.

Yep. Uber. The ride-sharing service. Complete and total strangers at your beck and call 24/7/365, ready to pick you up and deliver you wherever you need to be.

No, I am not on commission. I get nothing from Uber for writing this. The simple, unsolicited fact is that I travel often to overcrowded, distant cities. I hate to rent cars. I despise traffic. Taxis are less and less available and more and more expensive. So I Uber.

I was skeptical at first for all of the obvious reasons: Why should I trust my life to someone I have never met and his or her vehicle? Why should I endure the odd scents and textures and musical preferences of a total stranger?

In fact, I have only had positive experiences Ubering hither and yon. In recent memory, that stretches from San Diego to Seattle, from Boca Raton to Santa Fe to St. Paul and to Milwaukee. Kudos to Uber.

But the message isn’t about a successful company. There are plenty of those. The message is about the simple, face-to-face, very real kindness and compassion of the drivers themselves. These are real people just trying to get by like you and me. Retired teachers and former businesspeople who need a few extra bucks. Many are immigrants for whom English is a second language. All are, however, in my growing experience, kind and patient and respectful. Engaging and open and honest. All are glad to tell their story, open to hearing yours, and just fine sitting silently from one stop light to the next. I’m writing to suggest that that kindness of these people is an excellent reminder that underneath the deluge of global pain and environmental degradation, the basic fabric of humanity is still good and caring and respectful.

Were it not for this article, I doubt that Uber kindness would hit the news. It’s hard to fit simple goodness in between violence and villains and volcanoes. In this, our media is failing us. Sensationalism is distorting our shared world view. An Uber ride can begin to correct this.

An Uber ride is a healthy reminder that respect and generosity are right there, all around us, on call when we’re ready to receive it.

As parents, we must never allow the cynical and the damned to wash away our hope. It is, after all, our hope that will allow our children to grow their own. These days, when I start to become overwhelmed by the criminal, destructive and abusive, when I fear that my dreams and wishes for myself and my family, for my species and our shared future are being lost amidst the digital din of destruction, I watch my children sleep. I step out just long enough to watch the sunrise, or I hire an Uber.

Parenting Pointer

The cup is never empty.

Okay. True. It might not be half full. The negatives may outweigh the positive five to one or ten to one. Even one hundred to one. But your health and healthy parenting requires that you actively and intentionally seek out the part of the cup that’s half full.

My experiences with Uber are just one small example. In between the bad drivers and defrocked celebrities and four-hour on-hold calls waiting for the next service agent to become free, take a minute to notice that the bagboy at the supermarket smiled at you. That the mail carrier went to the extra effort of getting that poorly wrapped leaking package to your door.

Stop and make eye contact and thank the next person who holds a door for you, the stranger who alerts you that you dropped something, and the service agent when she finally picks up. The long wait wasn’t her fault, after all.

We may not be able to change the big, bad and ugly realities that grind away at humanity day-to-day, but for our children’s sake, we must stage a grassroots campaign or respect and decency and caring. No marches. No posters. No bull horns. Just a smile and a thank you and the conscious awareness that the cup is never empty.


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