I’ve been on a bit of a journey of self-discovery over the past couple years, a journey that hasn’t been particularly lucrative. Seeing as I’m (sometimes) included in the millennial generation, having been born in 1980, I’ve embraced the gig economy and sewn together various income streams to join those ends we’re all supposed to make meet.
That includes a wide variety of enterprises, like wedding officiant, Lyft/Uber driver, and writer for the Braver Angels Media Network. I also volunteer my time with Braver Angels in running workshops and developing SoCal’s network of leaders to ensure that there’s plenty of workshop activity in the state. These roles are all quite different, but there is a common thread that binds them together. It is the faith that they build in me about the state of humanity and the nature of people. Each of these jobs lets me see the best in humanity, and only very occasionally the worst.
I’ll grant you, I do things that are predisposed to bring out positive traits. I had a conversation with the mother of a groom whose wedding I’ll be officiating in a couple weeks. It was clear from her that he and his bride are truly wonderful people, and I’m really excited to help these two tie the knot. A wedding can often be the happiest day of your life, and most couples don’t actually consist of the Bridezillas nor Groomothras that WEtv might have you believing are the norm. The couples that I’ve had the pleasure to work with have included some pretty great people.
From the very first, I have deeply liked the pairs that have selected me, starting with my good friends Tracy and Anthony, who saw in me the ability to run a wedding well before I did. They’re two of my favorite people in the world, and it was beyond an honor to help them say their vows, with 4-year-old Alison helping them to literally tie a love knot.
Subsequently, the very first wedding that I performed professionally brought together two magnetic, and so obviously caring, people. In return for the simple act of reading a small portion of the ceremony in German—I speak a tiny bissel—so that the German-speaking grandma back in Deutschland could enjoy it via FaceTime, I received an outpouring of affection, and was treated like a member of their family. It was an incredible experience that reinforced for me the decision to go pro in the wedding game.
Consistently the family and friends I talk to—this is a standard practice for all my weddings, so I can get a full picture of the special couple—describe to me the most reliable, hardest working, most loyal people in their lives, the people I’m about to join together. They have come through adversity with equanimity, they have gone out of their way for the sake of their families at every turn, and they provide role models to everyone around them. They have consistently struck me as remarkable people in so many different ways.
Now, in terms of the couples that find me, I could be extraordinarily lucky, or exceptionally effective in attracting the cream of the crop in people, but I feel like the answer is simpler than that. We don’t often get the chance to fawn over our friends and family, and when that bottle is uncorked in an interview about all the reasons you love someone, what comes pouring out is a reflection of the best of humanity.
We can all be role models in some ways, even though we fail in so many others.
Surprisingly, my work for the ride-hailing services is also quite heartening. Sure, many of my passengers just get in and lock eyes with their screens for the whole trip, but I do get a chance to chat with plenty of them about ourselves and about the world. Lots of people have interesting and uplifting stories, and I’ve definitely formed some strong—albeit temporary—connections with people.
And of course through my work with Braver Angels, I tend to see people actually trying to be their best selves. Participants routinely go through our workshops having their perceptions of those across the political aisle from them radically altered, and new friendships often spring forth. (The documentary that Braver Angels will release on May 17th focuses a lot on the friendship that developed between Greg Smith and Kouhyar Mostashfi, an unlikely pair who met at an early workshop.) There’s no doubt in my mind that these people are seeing the deep well of goodness within everyone around them, and tapping into it. They’re realizing that this goodness isn’t a finite resource or a zero-sum game. It’s infectious, and multiplicative.
So I emerge from each workshop with a full-on moderator’s high (similar to the runner’s high with a slightly lower heart rate.) And it makes me want to meet more people to bring them into our workshops. Those recruitment conversations are also rewarding experiences, because I see how much people long to connect with the other side, and how much they sense that their skewed perception is based on “the narrative.”
I’m inspired by the richness of humanity, and by the charity and goodwill that people are willing to extend to those who may have very different viewpoints and backgrounds.
In the not-so-distant history of humanity, we found it much more difficult to transcend our tribal roots, and would extend our empathy to a much narrower share of our species. But with our shrinking world the realm of “the other” also wanes, with people increasingly realizing their connectedness with the rest of humankind.
This is why the basis of most of the world’s religions lies in love, and in the idea of our connection with the rest of the universe. But now, with the advent of instant global communication and easy travel, that universe is vastly expanded and more easily accessible.
So if you’ve been looking for reasons to take heart in the state of humanity, I offer that there are plenty of them around. And if you actively search for those reasons, and ask some good questions along the way, you’ll probably end up feeling pretty darn great.