Our core message at the Flawless Foundation is "Seeing the perfection in every person." Of course, this means different things to people. For some it means forgiveness and compassion. For others, it means a true open-mindedness about people and understanding of what they think, feel and experience in their lives. For me it means many things, but if I had to pick one, it would be looking at someone through eyes of love. Seeing the spark of divinity in each person. One of the most powerful tools for me to practice this way of seeing people and the world has been the inspiring photos of one of our Flawless board members, Pierre Hauser. Long before Instagram was popular, Pierre has been posting a photo each day on his Facebook page. He has many themes, but one of his specialities is capturing images of people on the street that are equally sobering and beautiful at the same time.
Because I am dedicated to the practice of trying to see the perfection in everyone, most of the time I can quickly find the beauty in an image that might seem stark, sad or even disturbing. Every once in a while, a photo will be so emotionally evocative that it might take me some time to find a thing of beauty to appreciate in the image.
This past weekend at a community salon for the Pollination Project Jeff Kirschner, the founder of the organization #litterati, presented his revolutionary campaign to end litter. It began on Instagram with the simple act of posting photos of litter. The premise is simple...find some litter on the ground, take a photo of it, post it online and throw the litter itself away.
As with Pierre's photos, Jeff's talk had many lessons beyond what you might see on the surface. He spoke about how people and corporations have engaged and reacted to his movement to end litter. For me, there were two striking lessons that apply to our work in the mental health advocacy world.
The first is understanding how you can make something that is "thrown away," "messy" "discarded" accessible and, dare I say, beautiful? In Flawless terms, how do you see the perfection in something that is viewed as dark, scary or unattractive?
The second important lesson that Jeff shared was about engagement from and with corporations. How does he communicate with companies when trash from their products is found over and over again? What is his philosophy behind calling out companies on their green policies? Does Litterati approach this in a "shaming and blaming" way -- or work collaboratively to clean the planet one plastic cup at a time? Jeff has had great success in working peacefully with partners and corporations on coming together to magnify the impact of his environmental movement.
The day after this powerful time with Jeff and the Pollination Project, I was in a gift shop in the San Francisco airport and came upon a huge display of horrifying products capitalizing on the stereotype of "psychos" at the well known bay area tourist site Alcatraz. I stopped in my tracks, quickly snapping photo after photo even if didn't yet know what I was going to do with them. I was so angry and outraged at this horrible reflection on real people who, like all of us, have the spark of divinity in them. I thought to myself, "What would Jeff do with these photos? " "How can I be peaceful and collaborative about this? " "How can I use these images to make the compassionate change that is so drastically needed? "
With my tight and temporarily hardened heart, I traveled home and landed into what felt like a fairy world of love and light as I went from the airport to a meeting with our Junior Volunteer Committee to work on a Flawless fundraiser that we are planning. I picked these inspiring 13 year old girls up from their Waldorf School where a few of them were wearing floral crowns from the flowers they found around campus. In the car they talked about their concern and compassion for our kids of Flawless who live with mental health challenges. Their young hearts were overflowing with activism and love. When I parked my car, they even wrote Flawless with a heart in the dust on my back window.
The power of photography struck again as they took photos of peacocks and peacock feathers (our Flawless logo) that they had drawn to post on Instagram, creating the hashtag of #getyourflawlesson. Their energy and pure open heartedness felt like magical fairy dust, potent enough to be able to dispel the hate that was depicted in those disturbing "psycho" photos I'd taken at the airport gift shop.
I still don't know what I will do with those Alcatraz photos, which to me depict their own kind of "litter" in our public attitudes about brain health. But I remain convinced that seeing the beauty and perfection will always win. So I wonder, what's your idea about how we can use images to spread the kind of fairy dust that those 13 year-old hearts seem to understand so well?