“To be loved. Attention paid. And to be respected.”

I just heard Mike Farrell on Tavis Smiley’s radio show on PRI say those words. Tavis asked Farrell how he wound up becoming the political and social activist he is, in addition to being an actor (best known as B.J. Hunnicutt from the TV show M*A*S*H.)

Farrell told of a time in his life when things were falling apart all around him (I think after a divorce) and he was told about a non-profit program at the time called the Manhattan Project* that helped heal troubled people. In his case, he says, it helped him find out who he was and why he was here on earth.

It was in that program that he learned to get to the basics of what a human wants – any human including himself. And, in his words, those basics were the things I listed above: “To be loved. Attention paid. And to be respected.” He says, from there, once he knew who he was and that he was just like anyone else at the core, he was able to go on and forge the life he wanted – while still being true to himself. He gave to himself and he gave back to the world and each feeds the other. Not a bad deal.

Speaking of giving back to the world, I believe that to effectively help others, it would help to first understand and embrace who we are. There are many things we want and certainly not all people want the same things, but at the basic core, we are just like everyone else – and they are like us. They aren’t “those poor people over there” that we feel compelled to help – they are just like us. With wants. And hopes. And dreams. We deserve. They deserve.

Even in the most dire situations, the life spirit still wants the same basic things we all do. And I think it’s important for us to stay in touch with that. And I believe we can do the most good by first recognizing and honoring in ourselves that which we would hope to honor in others: our basic human core. No matter what our color, nationality, background, or belief system.

I also believe that we are uplifted by kindness to others. Like Farrell, I think if we are moved by an issue, we can at least speak out in support of others’s rights to those same basic things we want. In my mind, silence (although very useful at times) can also be an enemy to change. Sure, Farrell gets flak for being an activist actor, but accepting that logic would then create a class of people who have no right to speak up. And, as of today, we all still have that right. And I think it’s a wonderful right.

I understand that sometimes we “average folk” feel conflict about speaking out. “Who am I to speak out when I don’t know all the facts?” “Who am I to do that when I don’t think I could do a better job?” “Who am I to tell people in power what to do when I haven’t had the courage to take a leadership role myself?” or just “Who am I?”

Well…I feel connected to what’s going on in my community, my city, my state, my country and even the world. And when I see something I don’t agree with, I believe in speaking up and, when possible, taking an active part in trying to help give people a chance to achieve their basic wants for themselves. For me, it’s part of the social contract (thank you Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes) that forms the basis of democracy. Certainly we can’t all sit down at the table, for instance, with the various warring factions in the Middle East and try to get them to all get along. But maybe we can do our part by finding out all we can about what’s being done in our names, questioning what feels wrong to us, and voicing our opinions or taking action in whatever way we can on those issues that matter to us.

We can still make a difference. Our ideas deserve attention. Even loving, caring, spiritual people like the Dalai Lama speak out against what they see as wrong. He does it mostly by promoting values he believes in. It doesn’t always have to be ranting. There are many ways to speak out. And I hope, when possible, one remembers that those we speak out against are also human beings just like us. Yes…even Republicans. (-;

While silence certainly can be a good thing at times, in a society, silence in the face of wrongdoing only condones the status quo. The vast majority of people – both in Germany and elsewhere – were silent leading up to WWII. The tragic crisis in Darfur in Western Sudan has been going on for years and yet the major media and world powers were all but silent until just recently. And even though I am pro-choice, I totally support the voices of those who speak out against abortion if they truly believe it is murder. Just as I speak out against the death penalty because of the inequity in the way it’s dispensed. (And also because I just don’t think it’s a great way for a civilized society to mete out justice. But that’s for another time.)

One glaring example of silence I’ll never forget is the tragic death of Kitty Genovese in 1964 in Queens, New York. She was attacked and killed outside on the street near her home where her screams were supposedly heard by 38 neighbors and not one person tried to help. This “silence” became known as the “bystander effect”. There is an alternative view that says the neighbors really didn’t hear enough to know what was going on; we’ll never know for sure. But the effect of that story on all of us was powerful. Her name still stands as a rallying cry for people getting up out of their comfortable chairs to see what’s going on and get involved.

We are all just people. We want to be heard. And our voices actually matter. We want the world to show us respect. And we need to show the world respect – and that includes taking part in what’s happening around us. And we want to be loved. And that starts with loving ourselves first and then reaching out to love others. And that includes believing that what we think merits attention and respect, no matter who we are or what day-to-day role we play on earth.

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*Note: Farrell explained that The Manhattan Project was named that way to show there can be non-nuclear things done in that name too.