From the Salvation Army’s Hope in the City Breakfast
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Salvation Army’s Hope in the City Breakfast in St. John’s. What an amazing crowd and such a dynamic organization doing critical work here and around the world. A few people have asked me since to post my speech so the following is the transcript. For those who have seen my presentations or read my blogs, you’ll know I talk a lot about hope. That made for a great fit for this event. Of course afterwards I was upstaged by Cory Tetford and a soul-lifting version of “Amazing Grace”! But it was a privilege just to be invited and spend time in the company of this special group. Here’s what I had to say…
Thank you all for giving me this humbling opportunity to speak here today.
I want to tell you a story. Rose Ann’s story.
Rose Ann lives in a small 2-room shanty in mountains outside Port-au-Prince in Haiti.
Her home is made up of scrap sheet metal stitched together to form a bedroom and an area to eat. It’s a 15 by 15 foot space, smaller than most bedrooms here.
Rose Ann is also a single mom with five children to feed.
Every day she travels down the long, twisting mountainside road to a market area where she sells food. It’s a tough road, even by SUV it takes a good 15 minutes.
Even further down there’s a river where Rose Ann and her children wash their clothes and make that long, tough journey back up to their home, often lugging buckets of water.
Can you picture her?
Did I mention the heat?
Imagine that journey, that load to carry in 40 degree heat.
But through it all Rose Ann had biggest smile on face when I first met her.
She waved off a handshake for a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.
Can you picture her?
What makes Rose Ann so special is that she hasn’t walked in 16 years.
Rose Ann is a double-amputee.
She makes these incredible journeys ever day on the stumps left after a car accident more that a decade and a half ago.
She’s also the greatest example of hope that I know.
Hope. It’s a commodity that we need more of today than ever before.
It’s also something that the Salvation Army, as an organization, lives every day.
You are the brokers of hope for people here at home and around the world.
When people see the red shield, they know there is hope and a helping hand behind it.
And so when I was asked to give remarks today, I felt like it should be me sitting, listening, not talking but listening to you… the true champions of hope.
In just over 150 years the Salvation Army has established over 10 thousand community programs helping over 2 million people.
There are the over 400 homeless hostels, over 250 residential addictions programs, over 90 refugee homes and more than 50 hospitals around the world.
So if you cannot find hope in the red shield perhaps you can in seeing it in action.
Every time there is a new Salvation Army project to balance the scales of inequity or injustice, the earth’s axis tilts slightly and the world becomes a better place.
This takes courage of conviction and strength of determination.
But it’s that fortitude that helps balance the scales of injustice and poverty that are so often weighted in the wrong direction.
Your work reflects the principles of respect, human dignity and human rights.
That all men and women deserve a chance to create a family, work in a meaningful job and contribute to the society in which we live.
This is the very genesis of hope.
And you all deserve to celebrated for it.
Hope can be found in the strangest of locations and the darkest of places.
It may be difficult at times to see, but it is there.
It’s often easier to see the imperfections in our society.
The often unjust and unconscionable behaviour of a few can occupy more than its fair share of time in the media.
It makes you want to stop looking at the news.
The turmoil is undeniable.
Recent world events have left some feeling down, disillusioned and depressed.
We appear to be applying a negative lens and it can become all-consuming.
But look a little closer.
Are we actually in tough times?
There is no question that 2017 has had some disheartening and questionable behaviors of not just a few, but many.
There is no doubt that these actions are a gigantic Trump-sized anchor weighing on our collective conscious and subconscious mind.
But there’s the trick and the psychological fallacy we must overcome.
Just because there have been two or three or even 10 or 20 negative events, we cannot let our lens be anchored there.
It can’t dominate our focus.
It is our duty and responsibility to be skeptical and at times fearful, but we cannot lose site of the overwhelming positivity around the world.
Hope and courage outweigh it all on a local, national and global stage every single day.
It’s easy to be blinded by the often-gigantic shadows of negativity, but we need to resist that move, and instead celebrate more frequently, more loudly, and with more enthusiasm the positive messages of hope.
Let’s make fear a motivator.
We need to have the courage to resist the temptation of negativity, resist this anchor to our course, and reset our direction based on the good that is happening in the world.
There still exists in North America and around the world, social and racial tensions, despite our knowledge of its history.
This attitude can only be based in hate and ignorance.
How can we overcome it?
The challenge is complex and daunting but it starts at home.
The world is not evil, it is not divided by hate, and hate cannot win.
The world does not have to be divided on race, religion, or sexual orientation. We do not have to go any further than our own backyard to see the hope for this.
When thinking of these social tensions I cannot help but draw some comparisons to my recent trip to Bangladesh.
They suffer from incredible poverty and have gigantic challenges in health, environment and industry.
They’re also divided by religious lines, 80% Muslim and 20% Hindu.
Yet they live and work side by side, peacefully tolerant of each other’s views and beliefs.
This is a shining example of how tolerance can win.
Yes, Bangladesh still has a long way to go but they are moving in a positive direction.
They have made incredible strides in health care and maternal medicine in particular.
In the 1980’s, there was a 600/100,000 maternal death rate, an incredibly high number, 100 times higher than Canada’s.
Yet with the belief, courage and help of other countries the rate today is approximately 100/100,000.
Positive progress is out there. You just need to look.
I firmly believe that there’s no problem too difficult to tackle, too complex to understand. Bangladesh reaffirmed that for me.
Tolerance and acceptance are alive and well but they need our help to thrive and survive.
To celebrate difference, not fear it.
To answer those who would attempt to divide us. To shout louder than those voices screaming hate and ignoring basic human dignity.
This is how we build hope. By inspiring others.
Also, in these times of bullet news stories, rapid CNN and texting news, where one major news story lasts only seconds on the stage…the plight of the poor is often neglected and rarely occupies our attention for longer than a minute or two.
The Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. Victims of floods, hurricanes, and unbelievable acts of random violence. The attention is intense but always fleeting. This is a challenge for us. All of us here tonight are also the guardians of hope. We need to constantly lift up those around us to see past the mess and know that things can change.
Things can get better.
Think of Rose Ann.
Think of her long, arduous trip on wrapped stumps to eek out a living for her family. How does she find it in her to smile?
And here we are sweating the small stuff.
An extra long line up at a drive thru.
Flight delays, a hike in the price of a head of cauliflower.
A $10 coffee made incorrectly.
Yes, we all do it. And yet no one wants to be preached to that over 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1.25 per day.
But it’s there.
This massive socioeconomic divide that empowers us and impoverishes many.
We are all so extremely lucky to have been born where we were born and live where we live.
We shouldn’t feel guilty for that.
But rather it should reinforce our empathy for those less fortunate.
We need to create hope from despair and create possibilities where none exist.
Hope is energizing.
Hope is inspiring.
All of us here tonight, can be the messengers, the doers, the ones committed 100% to making a difference.
On my first trip to Haiti, I treated a man who had suffered a hip fracture at the time of the earthquake.
He had been lying in a “Doctors Without Borders” tent in traction for 20 weeks, waiting for surgery.
He was transferred on our second day and his caring companion was his orphaned 11-year old granddaughter.
She did not leave his side.
She provided meals, gave him his medication, walked with him to the OR, and waited patiently for him to come out of surgery.
And as we were discharging her grandfather, this young girl shook my hand in thanks with the maturity of an adult.
She’s lived well beyond her years.
The courage and hope in her eyes instilled in me that things can change in Haiti. There is hope… even in the most desolate or desperate of times.
No, we are not helpless.
We are not helpless in setting our own course, in changing our trajectory, in bending the course of our own history.
Each act of kindness, each act to enhance social justice and freedom of equality creates hope and its sum effect will change the world.
We must shine light in the darkest of spaces, to give hope in those who need it most.
To quote Robert Kennedy:
“We must do this not because it is economically advantageous, although it is. Not because the laws of God command it, although they do, not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
The right thing to do.
For Team Broken Earth, the right thing to do in Haiti was to give someone like Rose Ann hope. I’m happy to report that even though she hadn’t walked in 16 years, Rose Ann has taken her first steps after being fitted for prosthesis. When asked how she felt about the prosthesis, her smile got even wider and she said her steps were the first steps in the rest of her life.
I look around this room and I see the faces of people who have taken “the right thing to do” to a spiritual level.
You are the difference-makers.
The agents of change.
The guardians of hope.
For that, I can’t thank you enough.