Today I stepped off the bus on my way to work downtown, and was greeted by what looked to be a homeless man, trying to sell a community newspaper and asking for money for coffee. I looked at him, gently shook my head, and gave him the warmest smile I could. As I crossed the street I thought of Juan Mann, the guy that started giving away free hugs to strangers. These free hugs were a way to connect himself with the people around him, to help people realize that we are all connected, that we all need love and warmth. We are a community. I am connected to that homeless man, even if I don’t know him, even if I don’t understand his circumstance. Instead of giving him my loose change, maybe I should just give him a hug.
I felt my eyes moisten as I crossed the busy street. I looked around me. Everyone was rushing about, on their way to work, focused on their destination and on their own busy day. I did not feel connected. I am part of something yet I don’t feel plugged in. Are any of us?
I really believe that success in the environmental movement will be achieved partly by realizing our connections to each other. Why should I save those on small island nations, by sacrificing some comforts of my way of life here, when I will not be the one who will lose my home by rising waters, my whole country even? I will be safe and dry here on the prairies. Why should I sacrifice for them?
It is simple. I am connected to them through our shared humanity. They suffer, and we all suffer. I am also connected to non-human life, which is also at stake. Experts tell us that extinctions are expected to rise horrifically. How can I be a part of this magnificent creation of life and not care?
I decide then and there to strengthen my connections with strangers. I want to chit-chat with the coffee shop girl, make conversation in elevators. I must thank the bus driver every single time I get off his bus. I talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market, and thank them for offering me and my family a new choice. I will push myself to make conversations when I normally would not. I will listen to people. I will sympathize with people. I will congratulate them on good works. I will connect.
Yet I still feel torn. I see these huge global problems and very little movement towards solving them. The strength of the status quo way of life wears me down. But then I look into someone’s eyes and smile at them, and they smile back. We are all in this together. We are all connected. We all have the capacity to love. We must have the capacity to find a way.
In the end, it can all just start with a free hug.