My good friend Suzanne Lettrick once told me that when more than one person is telling you something, that's the universe whispering in your ear. If that is true, something is yelling at me big time. In the past weeks, we've heard of the horrifying, heartbreaking, evil news of violence in Paris, Lebanon and Mali.
It seems nearly every week the news is smattered with yet another shooting. No matter what it looks like -- an isolated incident, terrorism, (fill in the blank) -- it is an attack on humanity at large.
I was sitting peacefully on a dock along the Caloosahatchee River in Florida, watching the sunset while on vacation with Barbara Ocampo, my good friend and Go Inspire Go videographer, when we heard about the shooting in her hometown of Paris. I had been thinking about how peaceful the water looked against the backdrop of the peachy sky. The white cloud wisps seemed almost like a painting changing before our eyes, the sun's rays sparkling like diamonds on the water.
Barbara's phone started buzzing wildly. Barbara told me, "Sorry for looking down at my phone, I got a text from my brother in Paris."
"There was a mass shooting in Paris and people are being held hostage at a concert hall," she explained with horror in her wide eyes.
We watched the terror unfold through social media and news outlets online. She was checking Facebook and text messages to see if her loved ones were OK. Thankfully, her family was safe. A quick check showed that my friends were OK, too.
I felt helpless, but learned that I could do something to change that feeling and to change the life or lives of others around me. And so can you (keep reading for the challenge).
Before bed, I went to check in on her. Her eyes were red from crying. My heart hurt and mind went wild, thinking about the horror the concertgoers and other victims in Paris endured -- each one with a story, family, friends, careers -- their lives abruptly ended as they were going about their everyday routines. Then, more bad news about the violence that unfolded about Lebanon.
As I said good night, Barbara said, "Toan, the world needs you!" I chuckled. She didn't. Her voice was as serious as a heart attack. I knew she wasn't kidding.
Barbara, a professional videographer and documentarian, has volunteered her time and talents for several years, producing, shooting and editing videos for GIG. She told me that she's been volunteering for me because she believes in me and has seen the changes in people I connect to and share my stories with.
For the past six years, Barbara and more than 150 volunteers have helped me spread stories of everyday heroes and good deeds via my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go (GIG). I honestly didn't realize I had that big of a power to inspire people to do better and be better for themselves and others. I got the chills.
I left the world of TV news because people told me they wanted to see more positive stories. I paid attention and with story after story, we've inspired people on big and small scales. Barbara, a professional videographer and documentarian, has volunteered her time and talents for several years, producing, shooting and editing videos for GIG. She reminded me that the world needs more stories of inspiration, heroism and hope -- the threads woven into all of our Go Inspire Go stories.
With the mayhem that is breaking loose this week, we need to see more positive stories.
One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Fred Rogers of Mister Roger's Neighborhood:
"As a little boy, anytime there was a catastrophe, my mother would tell me, look for the helpers. If you look for the helpers you'll know that there's hope."
As an intern at local TV stations in San Francisco, I would want to stick around and talk to the victims and look for the helpers. I would push for some sort of way we could relay information to the viewers on how they could help. This kept me going.
Here are two stories to get you going:
Barbara and I recently produced this soul-to-soul chat with Dr. Michael Pritchard, an actor, comedian and humanitarian who has dedicated his life to using comedy to inspire laughter, love and kindness to audiences young and old. His whisper to me: "You are the teacher-preacher-professor for the next generation. You're the Asian male Oprah," he constantly says.
As much as I chuckle over this comparison to Ms. Winfrey, about a dozen people have told me this in the last couple of years. Check out the video we produced.... Teaser: During the chat, we believe his best friend, the late actor Robin Williams, whispered something by way of a real-life "tweet, tweet, tweet":
On the day of the Paris shooting, I got a private message from yet another friend, Oli Cohen. Oli is also a talented photographer, videographer and sound recordist who criss-crosses the world for his work. He sent me this direct message:
"I just wrote this on a FB discussion and thought of you: 'Over half a million people die every year because of malaria. This is so crazy considering that it's a preventable disease. Malaria doesn't make great news or social media stories though. Even worse, in the world over three million people die of hunger ever year. Again this is completely unnecessary. It's a shocking statistic but it doesn't make a shocking news story. It's so easy to feel detached from it too. On a positive note, the numbers dying from malaria are reducing and with some luck it will be eradicated in our lifetime. Similarly, extreme poverty has significantly reduced in the world. Fantastic work is being done and there are many positive stories out there but then they don't make great news or social media stories either. Just saying.' "
Oli and I were brought together by another magical person, a dear friend and PR volunteer Fiona Pattison. I happened to be attending a wedding in Durham, England, and Fiona knew that she, Oli and I were connected on a higher level. It was also around the time of the 2011 London riots.
My intention was met with a miracle. Against all odds, injured foot, no equipment and not even a cell phone, at Fiona's behest she convinced me and Oli to work with together and produce this video that tells the story of the positive things that came out of this senseless rioting. This is the video that inspired many of our British brothers and sisters to do good in the wake of the madness and looting that occurred:
I learned early on that we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond. That could mean changing your perspective, praying for peace and/or taking action to do what is in our power to serve our brothers and sisters in the community and around the world.
When I was a little boy, 5-years-old to be precise, I remember being super sad during recess. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Persinski, noticed that I wasn't my perky, playful, positive self and knew something was majorly wrong with me. "How are you doing Toan?" she asked in a motherly tone.
"I'm sad because I saw on the news that another person was shot and killed in the apartments behind my house," I explained. She was shocked, but had the best response that made me think deeply.
"Toan, you know that we have choices, right? You can choose to do good or choose to do bad. If you do good, good things happen. If you do bad, bad things happen. You can get in trouble and go to jail."
This was one of the first profound life lessons I learned. The law of cause-and-effect. I vowed to always try to do good things for me and for other people. I wondered why anyone would intentionally hurt or even want to kill anybody. I was sad for the victims as much as I was sad for the perpetrators. I wondered what caused the so-called "bad people" on the news to do bad things. Someone must've done something bad to them. I tried to make sense of it all.
The truth is there are more good stories out there than bad stories. We just need a big ole platform to broadcast this. That's why I created Go Inspire Go -- so you can go to a place to be inspired and go do something and create change. I believe the more good you see, the more good we will do. What you pay attention to, more of it pops up into your reality.
My challenge to you...
Please send us:
Inspiring stories or quotes or kind acts. We may share them on our platform, social media channels or blog about them.
Help us take the whispers of people saying they want more good news and turn them into happy screams. Let's get as many people sharing more good news as possible.
Then pass the baton to a friend and let them know it's their turn to share more good news. Tag them and ask them to share and then tag another friend. As I filter through the responses, I will share a blog and multiply their messages. Let's create a good news movement!
Together, we don't need to feel helpless. We have the power to uplift and shift those around us.
Peace be with you.
This post originally appeared on Go Inspire Go.