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Lysa Heslov Headshot

Look for the Helpers: Fostering Activism in Our Youth is Simpler Than You Think

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Fred Rogers (perhaps better known simply as "Mister Rogers") was once quoted as saying, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" For the young Fred, it was a lesson about empathy in action that would follow him throughout his life and guide much of his personal life and career choices.

For decades, Fred Rogers worked tirelessly to create and promote socially and emotionally educational television programming that was focused on helping children learn to love themselves and others. In 1969, he even appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications arguing that alternative television programming like his show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" encouraged young people to become happy and productive citizens. His life turned into a wonderful embodiment of his mother's lesson -- a lesson taught to him when he was young and impressionable. It was a lesson that said, simply, there are horrible things going on in the world all the time; the important, thing, however, is that we are helping each other through it.

Isn't that an incredibly nice idea? To most of us, though, it can seem insufficient in the modern world we live in. We awaken each morning to a constant stream of news from the television and the Internet. Our smart phones alert us to news even when we're away from our TVs and computers. More often than not, the news is tragic or depressing, or both. It can often be nightmarish. We are often exposed to new horrors on an hourly basis. It can be very difficult to "look for the helpers" when we're overwhelmed with the pain we see, feeling helpless because we know there is no way we can single-handedly solve all of these problems. Sure, we'd like to help everyone in the world who needs it. But how can we, when every moment we hear of a new crisis, a new struggle, a new center of pain and sadness? So often we feel like retreating into our own bubbles of familiarity and safety, paralyzed by fear and sadness. Or worse, we become numbed to the pain we see due to its relentless parade and start feeling like it's worthless to even try.

So what are we supposed to do?

There are groundbreakers like Fred Rogers. And earth-shakers like Nelson Mandela. Those people, whose prolific and selfless work reverberates beyond their time on earth, are the ones who inspire us and cultivate our empathy -- the empathy of millions -- the way some people cultivate a garden in their backyard. These are the people who make us want to help others in any way we can. They help us remember that our world is a beautiful place and worth fighting for so that humanity may live up to its potential, and so peace and love, rather than war and famine, are given the opportunity to prevail.

But back to you and me... how are we supposed to effect change? It is very easy to be overwhelmed, but it is also easier than you think to just jump in and give it a go.

I think there are two great ways to begin infusing yourself into the fabric of the world in a positive way to help your fellow humans. First, it's important to find an organization or cause you care about. It doesn't matter what it is. If it's connecting people and making the world a better place in any way, it's a worthy endeavor. Just because your monetary contribution doesn't build a whole school, or send a student to college, or buy 100 cows for a village, that doesn't mean it didn't have an impact. Your 10 hours per month volunteering at a local senior center may feel like an inconsequential drop in the bucket, but it doesn't mean it is. In other words, if you are positively impacting the world around you, you are making a difference and it counts. Empathy and love, compassion and kindness, are gifts that multiply and spread exponentially. So, jump in. And give it a go.

The other important way to invest in this world we share is to invest in our children. It is nothing short of vital that we raise and encourage children today to be true Global Citizens. Unshrinking, bold, intelligent, empathetic, and creative Global Citizens. I can't stress enough how important this is. Thinking back to the constant barrage of horrifying news we're exposed to in this hyper-connected world, we need young people who are set up to grow into adults who see people in pain all over the world as their people. Who see it and won't stand for it. We create these adults by teaching and guiding them now, every day. That is what we work toward at Children Mending Hearts.

You can invest in the future of our ailing world by investing in organizations like Children Mending Hearts and by setting a great example for the children in your life. When you have the opportunity, guide youth to "look for the helpers," as Fred Rogers' mother guided him. And then go one step further and talk to them about how important it is to be a helper, to love all fellow humans as you love yourself, and to put that love into action. In that way, we can lift each other up and teach our children to do the same. Our future depends on it.