we are the world

Paper dolls in a chain with world flags showing through

My new book, TRIED & (Still) TRUE, just launched this past week. It’s been cause for much celebration.

It’s also been cause for a major lack of sleep.

And staying in sweats all day.

And not showering some days (which, if you knew me, is really saying something).

And, if I’m being completely honest, I even realized after 4:00 PM one day that I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet.

So Sunday afternoon, when I ventured out for a trip north to visit my cousin, it felt strange to have the sun on my face, to feel the gravel of the drive crunch under my shoe-clad feet, which during the last few days had been bare.

Driving along the winding bucolic roads, passing apple farms and waterfalls that had iced over in motion, and with the sun playing like an old-fashioned projector light through the bare tree branches, I found myself singing aloud at the top of my lungs a song that’s been stuck in my head for the last few days:

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

If you don’t recognize it, it’s because didn’t live through the ‘80s or at least weren’t old enough to remember what was going on in 1985. “We Are the World” brought together some of the most well-known pop stars of the day to sing what would become the fastest-selling and highest-grossing single in American history, as well as the first song to ever be certified Multi-Platinum (Quadruple Platinum, in fact, selling over 20 million copies).

If you missed it in 1985, you may have heard it in 2010, when another all-star ensemble reprised the song to raise money for the victims of the devastating Haiti earthquake.

Anyway, there I was belting the song in my car. When I reached my destination, I was still humming it. And I got to wondering why. Why was this 35-year-old song stuck in my head? I hadn’t heard it recently nor talked about it with anyone. (As I say, I’d been holed up in my home for days around the book launch.) So why was this particular song burgeoning inside of me on this particular day?

Before I’d even reached the door, I’d figured it out.

I’ve had hundreds of interactions with people during the first few days since TRIED & (Still) TRUE launched. Calls, texts, emails, blog comments. I’ve read each Amazon and GoodReads review. And I couldn’t help but notice that much of the positivity and praise has been shared alongside a common counterpoint that took this basic form:

“It’s so refreshing to read this encouraging, uplifting book with the world being so negative, divided and scary lately.”

I totally get it. I’ve placed myself on total news blackout for long stretches and turned on ad-blockers so that I can’t even see sidebar headlines when I check my email. If anyone in my friend group happens to mention certain names or events, eyes widen and bodies tense, as if Bloody Mary is on her way through the magic mirror. It’s easy to give in to the sense that “the world” is broken beyond repair. That this is it. The End.

But I don’t believe that.

As I wrote this new book, I delved into the lives of the people who brought us some of the most famous proverbs from history. I didn’t just talk facts. I talked lives, reminding readers constantly that those who penned the words that have become part of our literary legacy were real people just like you and me. They weren’t giants or superheroes. The most famous of them wouldn’t have been known by more of the population than the average person today connects with via social media. They were us. We are them.

And I’m here to tell you—they went through some things.

Subjugation by tyrannical emperors.

Religious purges.

Mysterious and gruesome plagues that killed millions.

Natural disasters on a scale not seen before or since.

They had no running water. No hot water on demand. No showers or baths. No porcelain toilets or toilet paper. No sewage system.

They did not have prenatal care plans and epidurals. Their anesthetic for anything from dentistry to amputation was a few swigs of whiskey and biting down on a stick. There was no counseling or medications for depression and anxiety. No pills to control blood pressure.

No multi-vitamins. No toothpaste and toothbrushes. No Tylenol. No dry skin cream.

In many places and times throughout history, people weren’t out drinking with friends and celebrating on their 21st birthday. They were quietly reflecting on the notion that their life was likely more than halfway over. Living to the age of 40 seemed to them as living to 100 might to us now.

And yet, somehow “the world” continued on, no matter how bad things seemed in the midst of tragedy and hardship.

Here’s a snippet taken from page 26 of my new book:

One thing I have learned is that worry serves no purpose other than to waste otherwise good moments in the present.

I am also convinced, however, that we always have a choice. I cannot choose for a society, or even for a single other person. But I can choose what I myself will do, how I will live—right now.

Let me break down a few lines from that earworm of mine—“We Are The World”—in hopes of reminding us of some simple truths that will help us all resist the urge to give on the human race quite yet.

“We are the world”

Have you ever seen these memes?

Cartoon of traffic jam drivers with thought bubbles: "If these idiots would just take the bus, I could be home by now."

You are not stuck in traffic. You ARE traffic.

Often, we can get to talking about “the world” and its problems as if we are… well, from some other planet. But just like the traffic we groan in, we are the world. If there is a problem, we are each part of it—as well as each being part of the solution.

“We are the children”

The year following the release of “We Are the World,” a book by the name of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was released. I’ve long said that adults are just kids in older bodies. That means we already know how to draw on the best of our child-selves to solve the world’s problems, ever keeping in mind that there is a world of difference between being childish… and being child-like.

A few lines from the book:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Learn some and think some.

Hold hands, and stick together.

I imagine a young boy of five years old in his kindergarten class. I’ll name him Ty. And I imagine that he is of Jamaican and Dominican heritage and he has his family’s accent. His classmate, Cara, is fair-skinned with freckles and fire-red hair in pigtails. She is missing her front teeth and talks with a lisp. They are building a block house together. At times they giggle. You see, they don’t yet know what a Republican or a Democrat or and Independent are. They don’t yet know that skin color and cultural markers like Ty’s cornrows. They don’t yet know that the sound of a person’s voice is supposed to make us ridicule or judge them. And so they build together and help each other and share.

So many simple solutions come naturally if we let our child-selves respond to life.

“We are the ones who make a brighter day”

No one of us can fix a global problem. Nor can we control the future. But what we each can do is to find simple ways to make where we are in this day a little brighter than it would have been otherwise.

When you are kind to the neighbor’s kid, you are potentially thwarting a future school shooting. After all, every kid who goes down that path was someone’s neighbor’s kid.

When you control your gossip and speak uplifting words into the world instead, you cause those around you to look at hate speech in high places differently.

Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the immensity of problems on the world stage. Do what you can do. It’s a lot more than you think.

“So let’s start giving”

It’s so easy to get to a place in our lives where all we do is talk about how bad “the world” is, expecting someone to come along and console us. And we do need to console and encourage one another, absolutely! But we can’t just be siphons. We need to give consolation and hope and encouragement. Not only does it help others stand up and start moving again, it helps us see firsthand the difference that one person really can make.

What’s more, there will always be ways you can give in order to “make a brighter day.”

Right now, as the wildfires rage in Australia, you can DONATE.

Two years ago, I witnessed firsthand the devastation along the Florida coasts while on vacation, as unprecedented levels of the toxic red tide continually washed more marine animals large and small ashore. Flies proliferated. Disease spread. And there was no debate: the red tide algae crisis was man-made as government officials shook hands under the table with local businesses, allowing them to pump chemicals and sewage into the Florida swamps. I found myself getting fatalistic about the levels of garbage in the world’s oceans.

Then I happened across a short video. After watching it, I bought a $20 bracelet made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean, and which would help the continuing effort of those who have the time and skills to do actual clean-up. But did my $20 matter in the big scheme of things? Was it really helping?

And the answer is a resounding yes.

The organization, 4Oceans, was started by two regular guys who had no intention of starting a movement. They were just out surfing the waves of the world. And they saw a problem that was bigger than two guys could fix. So they thought, “Let’s start small and make some bracelets to raise awareness and money to do a little more.” And selling one bracelet at a time, they’ve been able to organize pulling over 2 billion tons of trash from worldwide oceans.

I helped them do that. So can you.

Think of any issue that troubles you. Then Google the name of that issue along with “how can I help.”

“We are the world… so let’s start giving.”

“There’s a choice we’re making”

I’ve said it over 10,000 times as best I can figure: “You always have a choice.”

That choice is an ongoing one. You are making it. And the collective decisions being made right now—including yours—are shaping our future.

Decrying the problems of “the world” while somehow removing ourselves from culpability or responsibility is what got us all in trouble in the first place. And making new choices as individuals is the only way to get ourselves out.

“We’re saving our own lives”

When we help one another, we help ourselves. We build alliances. And we fill our own lives with hope, whereas inaction only feeds despair.

“It’s true”

For centuries, loud and prominent people proclaimed that the earth was the center of the cosmos. They publicized it. They indoctrinated children with it. They even demanded that people publicly agree, killing those who said otherwise. But for all their fervency, it just wasn’t true. It never has been. The earth has simply never been the center of the universe. Many of those who held so tightly to the notion meant well. They were sincere. But they were sincerely wrong nonetheless.

We as humans are great at self-deception. We trick ourselves into thinking that the firmness of our belief somehow influences truth.

It doesn’t.

Denying that you are part of “the world” and thus its problems—and solutions—might be comfortable. Or less work. But you “are the world” all the same. Truth is truth. The choice you must make ever-now is what you will do with it. You can’t change the truth. But you can influence outcomes. Right now.

“We’ll make a better day for you and me”

Notice this time around the word “make.”

Not wait for.

Not wish for.

Not hope for.


Hope without action is little more than despair by a different name.

"We ARE the world." Hope without action is little more than despair by a different name.

It’s easy to turn off the news and be glad that our “neck of the woods” isn’t Australia (unless it is) or that  the most recent mass shooting “wasn’t too close to here.”

But again “we are the world.”

One person matters.

What you choose to do matters.

Every large-scale change is no more than the collection of choices made by individuals.

I recently saw the new Disney animated film Frozen II with my sister.

Anna from Frozen II faces her fear

I’ll share with you in closing some of the lyrics from what I found to be the most memorable song:

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb

Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

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