I discovered Humans of New York (HONY) my freshman or sophomore year of college and often consider its daily post the single most worthwhile piece of social media exposure I get in a day's worth of scrolling.
Brandon Stanton, founder and photographer, began capturing images of New York urbanites in 2010 with the initial goal of reaching 10,000 individuals. The project has since amassed a following of nearly 18 million Facebook fans and over 8 million Instagram accounts, expanding its photographic cataloguing to distant countries, taking us on several tours overseas and sharing first-person testimonies of average people normally unremarkable to the big media industry. From the Ukraine, to Jerusalem, to Iraq, and most recently, Rwanda, HONY has given the least-of-these a voice and amplified their requests for help.
I am always amazed to see the comments posting in real-time by users insisting that the stranger being featured gets the financial help life didn't afford them, and the success stories are a myriad. Besides its revealing to me anew how beautiful and oftentimes tragic the colors of humanity are, HONY's images spur philanthropic generosity from stranger towards stranger, and for that reason I'd say it's one of the most redeeming uses of this monster of the internet that exist.
As previously mentioned, I've been following this project for several years and have frequently resisted the urge to share the remarkably true and offensively honest faces of strangers. I came across one story just last week that I not only want to share but I want to draw a correlation to the American condition from.
Image taken directly from the webage of humansofnewyork.com, and if there is any copyright or publishing infringement please tell me cause I'm really really really sorry and will do whatever is needed to avoid said issue.
Do me a favor and read the above quote, it will take 30 seconds. Pictured is Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in office since 2000. He is of the Tutsi tribe, victims at the hands of the Hutu tribe of the 1990-1994 genocide.
* * *
HONY covers all conditions and doesn't discriminate amongst strangers, another reason why I love the effort. There is no commentary on their level of sanity, or assumption of their innocence, or condemnation of their hatred. The photographed individual is allowed to speak for themselves, something the American landscape is slowly losing its capacity for.
Isn't it remarkable that someone with every "right" to and in the position of opportunity to demand retribution refuses himself the privilege? What does he say?
"So forgiveness was the only path forward. Survivors were asked to forgive and forget."
That is an amazing statement from a black president.
Forgive me for loosing myself free from the politically correct straight-jacket for a moment- there's a gumball machine of opinions on how best to restore and solidify the American identity, and I've yet to hear one American offer forgiveness as a path forward to true retribution and cooperative society.
I believe there are a lot of quiet supporters of forgiveness, but they're not the Thomas Paine's with an extraordinarily boisterous delivery style, so they're not given the 5 o'clock news interview slot.
A dear friend of mine and I were having a conversation on the significance of being an American, and though we don't agree on much, we do share a love for the greater good of humanity and we recognize that being an American affords us a far greater opportunity to feel "important" on the world's stage.
But how shameful is that, in retrospect, in light of this president's comments? Who are we, as "leaders of the free world," when we're pitifully outshone by this country with less international thwart and manpower to boast? How have kid ourselves for so long in regards to our moral superiority, our ability to show the rest of the nations "how it's done?" Look how well that's been going...
I'd much rather be lectured on what ought to be done by a person of any color or gender who isn't screaming for revenge, rights, or a reversal of power roles, because of the threat that some other person, male or white-male, is posing against them. Feminism, alt-rightism, leftism are all variances of the same kind of power play. The justified victim looking to ensure their "in" group gets what they "deserve" and will go to great lengths, occasionally violence, to procure it.
Forgiveness truly removes the burden of victimhood off the slighted individual and flips the power structure so they now have the upper hand, without having to alter any external factors or rearrange wealth. The best part is, the former perpetrator has no opportunity to regain a foothold over their former victim. Forcibly taking what is "yours" is some kind of stealing. Revenge is a bitter poison. There is no wealth like peace of the soul.
Forgiveness is otherworldly, and I hope Americans stop looking to themselves for advice just as much as blame, and start admitting we need an external solution for an internal problem, on the micro and macro levels. If we all go far back enough, we have all inherited injustices committed against our ancestors that gives us all justification to hate someone.
On another note, because I'm afraid I'll be deemed guilty by omission, I don't know everything. Kagame is well into his middle-aged years and held a military career during a time when there was quite a lot at stake, and I'm sure not every single decision was a shiny moment for him. I'm not heralding the man as some infallible savior figure, I'm pointing out the truth in his words. Whatever controversial path has lead him to assert humility as the nation's policy for restoration, that's the tune he's whistling now that I don't hear the angry masses in America humming.
I'll leave you by revisiting President Kagame's provocative, uncomfortable wisdom.
"Only forgiveness can heal this nation. The burden rests with the survivors because they are the only ones with something to give."