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By Rosemary Smith, Managing Director of Getting Better Foundation

In November 2021, I wrote a blog called “What is Radical Acceptance?” – ponderings on how the pandemic, racism, polarization of communities, and social media were robbing us of joy, transforming and demonizing our discussions around polls, schools, community events, and the dinner table. After the last two years, some of that article is worth revisiting as I reflect on the lack of joy that has been invading my own heart. My own heart has been quietly urging me to watch out! Watch for things robbing my joy by focusing on sensational events happening in our world. Watch and get back to the source of my identity, refocusing on my life’s meaning and fulfillment. It’s easy to think that if everything outside of me changed… solutions to conflict in the Middle East, the Ukraine, Afghanistan, and worldwide… improvements in poverty and famine… peoples’ and my own health and finances… then, I wouldn’t have to change. If only everyone else would change, then I’d be happy. We know this is not true.

Recordaré is the Latin term for “re-hearten”. Books and movies have been produced featuring messages of gratitude for life’s difficulties leading us to redemption and well-being. People have an entrenched narrative believing that if we suffer an ordeal, we are obligated to turn it around into a positive, inspirational story – a teachable narrative that prevents this type of suffering in the future. Then a junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, called this an “audacity of hope” in his now famous 2004 DNC Convention speech. Center for Media Literacy President Tessa Jolls refers to the two of us as “hope-a-holics” – with deep beliefs that we can foster peace with our prevailing “in spite of” drives. Keeping our chins up despite shortfalls in programming funds for our work in media literacy. Despite rejections. Despite others’ not recognizing that pitfalls in civil discourse are preventable, by means of media literacy as historically documented. Tessa and my own mutual hopes are inspired by two lifetimes dedicated to helping others persevere by bringing recognition of media literacy as a cure – such lofty aspirations. How could I be surprised that my own mind hadn’t previously sent out a cry to watch out? It was finally in tripping over some other hope-a-holics, that I’d found some answers.

Last month, I travelled as a speaker to the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Maybe I was influenced by Tom Hanks’ appearance espousing the virtue of brotherly love by “looking in the mirror”? It might have been the audience of educators and authors dedicated to enriching and empowering young minds. Possibly it was because the conference was held in the same city where the “Austrian Oak” – Arnold Schwarzenegger – hosts the Arnold Sports Festival – a testament to the power of positivity from physical activity. Perhaps I’m sentimental to my Husband’s Ohio State Buckeye roots (O-H!). Most likely it had something to do with the incredible educator audience who attended our “Trust Me” presentation in partnership with News Literacy Project, author Cindy Otis, and Central Michigan University’s Troy Hicks. Participants laughed with us, cried in empathy at our stories, shared resources and experiences, and vowed to seek ways to help students become more media literate. All these factors added up to my leaving Columbus with a renewed perspective… one inspired by hope. One including actual joy. Until that joy found its way through my ears, into my head and finally – into my heart – I remembered my life’s intention – to foster hope. Only when the other educators shared their hopes and their roads travelled to where we sat together in a Columbus conference room, was I reinvigorated and reminded about my life’s mission.

In her book, “Radical Optimism”, Beatrice Bruteau claims that for our world to journey toward peace, “We must adopt optimism that exceeds panic, exceeds anxiety, exceeds illness, exceeds conflict, exceeds the troubling times we are living in”. Beatrice’s concept is that only in embracing our situation, our differences, and radically accepting them, that we learn to trust one another, build a bridge with trust in a higher awareness, empathize with others’ sufferings, and work together toward progress in solving the more pressing problems of our world. Beatrice’s spirit may have been at the conference I’d attended. I would add to her research that it is only in recognition of our similarities – radically accepting our similarities – that we learn to trust one another, build bridges, and conduct civil discourse to work together toward furthering human progress.

When one of our now adult kids was going through a hard time, a psychologist taught us to understand just how temporary feelings and situations truly are. We were taught Radical Acceptance would lead us to acknowledge our son’s feelings as truth. Radical Open-mindedness allowed us to see that his feelings were temporary and treatable. Radical Truth helped us believe in the science that would help him heal. Radical Optimism gave us hope he would be okay – growing up to be a happy, productive husband, father, son, and explorer. We were provided with the hope that he and our three other children would experience joy in their lives. It was easier to adopt radical hope to soothe a loved one. The difficulty seems to lie in recognizing our own frailty. My recent experience missing the recordaré of my own heart until it felt joy again had escaped my attention.

Just prior to the NCTE conference, I was invited as a media literacy expert to share the work of our Getting Better Foundation with students and embassy personnel from the America House located in Odesa. Odesa, Ukraine. Looking online at a map of Odesa, you’ll see it is located across the Black Sea from Russian occupied Crimea. 168 nautical miles to the port of Sevastopol from which the Russian government has been lobbing missiles and ordinance indiscriminately into Ukraine causing harm to humans, structures, and democracy. A war started decades ago using online propaganda and misinformation.

An advance planning call treated me to the introduction of smiling, gracious hosts from the Ukrainian U.S. Embassy. The young organizers rising from the ashes of a war torn and ravaged country expressed hope that our 1½ hours of screening “Trust Me”, followed by Q&A with students, was not interrupted by an air raid. They stated that if a raid was to occur during our screening, we’d have to “pause the film, moving the students to a safe bunker, but that they’d return after an all-clear, as they’ve been looking forward to this program, and very much wanted to experience it.” Smiling hosts? Grace amid ashes? Dedication to watching a movie despite bodily threats? I shook my head… there was that familiar chink out of my once joyful heart. I exited the Zoom meeting with trepidation that our screening would occur without incident. But in the background, I heard it begin. A quiet thump. My re-heart-ening. A renewed sense that if these lovely, passionate, and intelligent young people can be resilient amid all their world is facing, maybe I can be resilient too. If not for my own well-being, then for theirs. And our own children’s. And yours. We need to radically accept – and seek – joy in all of life.

“Radical Acceptance does not mean Radical Inertia. Not at all.” – Dr. Delaney Ruston, “Screenagers”. We can radically accept that pandemics, social justice, climate change, and threats to democracy are challenging. Concurrently, we can think creatively about solutions – if we are Radically Optimistic about our futures. We’re going to exist together… somehow… in some fashion. Why not create, foster, and share joy?

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