[The Encouraging Times] This Is What Progress Looks Like

The following post was written by my younger brother, Luke Thering, as a contribution to The Encouraging Times.

In the wake of recent global, national and local events, the world seems to be at a boiling point. Hopefully, though, it’s also a tipping point.

A pandemic has exposed our nation’s ill-equipped and upside-down healthcare system, and ‘leadership’ from the very top seems to be completely absent or worse, present, but fighting against basic human rights of life and liberty. Recent killings of Black men at the hands of the police are reminding us that we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality and peace.

It can all seem so hopeless, so bleak, so sad. And it is. But it’s not for nothing: What has given me hope–what has been encouraging, is seeing how the outrage, grief, and pain has been transformed into action, nationwide and indeed throughout the globe: Citizens banding together, organizing, marching in the streets, donating, spreading information, and having difficult discussions.

On a more personal level, I’ve some days been overwhelmed by it all. It’s so easy to see the stark magnitude of the world’s problems, and to feel the weight of it, and the weight keeps you paralyzed. Some days that weight has kept me from getting out of bed, or has stifled my voice, or has led me into a state of comfortable apathy. But other days, it’s different…

On these other days, I remind myself that macro-change happens because of micro-changes. Our personal actions affect our communities, and our local politics bleed into state/national politics. The ripple effect is very real. Being as such, this reminder re-focuses my attention to the things I can do: engage with my local community and friends/family. Here are some bullet point highlights from some of my personal, localized activism, which have been encouraging and sources of hope for me:

  • Attending a neighborhood concert put on by a pianist on his front lawn. Neighbors sat on lawn chairs, socially distanced, and donations were collected for Black Lives Matter.
  • Participating in three Black Lives Matter protests/marches within one week, following the tragic George Floyd murder. These taking place in La Crosse, Wisconsin; a largely white community; much of the community-based response to this has been a sort of reckoning amongst white folks. Coming to terms with white privilege, sitting with uncomfortable truths (that racism is alive as ever, and that it’s deep and systemic), and standing (literally) with our Black brothers and sisters in solidarity. Recognizing that racism isn’t a Black problem to be solved by Black people. Rather, it’s a problem that white people (and all people, of course) need to TRULY acknowledge and actively work against, every day. That is what progress looks like.
  • One evening, I was talking to somebody about how I feel like I don’t know how to affect change on a local level–how do we initiate conversations with local leaders that result in real change? After that call, I noticed folks congregating at a nearby park. Hundreds. It was another BLM gathering, which I somehow hadn’t heard about. So I ran home, grabbed my mask, and attended. It turned out to be attended by our mayor and police chief, who both spoke, and outlined ways that they’re committing to certain (Campaign Zero) reforms. Without getting into the reform/defund/abolish debate, it was overall encouraging to hear directly from those local leaders. They responded to protesters’ questions and stood with the community. It would be easy to be cynical and dismissively see their participation as ‘just for show,’ but it’s equally as easy to appreciate that they participated at all. This is what progress looks like.
  • Spotting my church’s pastor at one of the BLM marches. This is what progress looks like.
  • With the devastation of riots and fires in Minneapolis, some friends organized food/supply drives in their alleyway. I biked over some canned goods; it was the first on their collection table. After a couple days, their entire basement was filled with supplies, and they drove them from La Crosse, WI to Minneapolis, MN. They’re continuing these drives, as the need for supplies is still very much there. This is what progress looks like.
  • I’ve had some deeper conversations with family members. We’ve talked about systemic racism, history, activism, local politics, and uncomfortable questions. Sparing the details (because these are private conversations, after all), I found myself in moments of disagreement, where maybe in the past I would have swept it under the rug without acknowledging; and instead I dug into it a bit, introducing questions and offering new ways to frame an issue. This is what progress looks like.
  • A co-worker/friend has been practicing personal accountability in engaging in the recent current events and activism around BLM. He was concerned about the frenzied way that media is so instantly re-shared and consumed. So, he started a routine of digging into a resource one day: reading and giving time to digest it; and the next day, sharing his big takeaways in a blog. By waiting just a day before sharing, he’s been able to actually understand the material better, and perform well-informed actions in a manner that isn’t solely driven by impulse or social pressure. I appreciated his initiative to identify the issue of frenetic social media blasts, and to create and follow-through on a plan for personal accountability. This is what progress looks like.

Happy to say: I could continue this list. And perhaps I will, in a personal journal. And THAT, is encouraging. Hopefully anyone reading this will have procured their own dose of encouragement and hope. It’s way too easy to disengage from the world’s ailments and give up. But the easy route rarely leads to progress. Of course we can’t solve the world’s problems overnight, or on our own. But together, our small individual actions will ripple outward. We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.

Thank you, Luke, for sharing your encouragement and hope with us.

Have you seen something in your community, circles, family, or friends that gave you hope? Tiny acts/moments are wonderful and powerful. I’d love to hear about it! Your stories will be shared here, to provide inspiration and light for others.