As we reflect back on 2014, it’s important to realize that amidst many of the sad and negative news stories we were bombarded with there are also many hopeful and inspiring stories. These stories often do not get their share of the spotlight since we are all too eager to turn to more sensational tales. As we return to work and school after the holidays, we have the opportunity in conversations with our colleagues, friends and family to shed a light on the good that happened in the past year. I like to think of it as a challenge when people bring up the negative stories to try and counter with an amazing positive story. In the spirit of that challenge here are five of the most talked about news stories of 2014 and an inspiring positive news alternative.
1. Athletic Embarrassments vs Athletic Heroes
From football players punching their spouses to runners guilty of culpable homicide, this year has been filled with examples of athletes who have failed in their job to be great role models. Yet there have also been athletes who have gone above and beyond to demonstrate exceptional character and to embody good sportsmanship.
During the Olympics this year, speed skater Gilmore Junio demonstrated an amazing act of generosity. Gilmore qualified for both the 500 m and the 1000 m at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He decided to give up his spot in the 1000 m to his teammate, Denny Morrison, believing he would be able to have a podium finish. In describing his choice, Gilmore explained that choosing to be generous can lead to personal excellence. He believes that the choices he makes daily to be generous and to help others allows him to grow and to become a better athlete himself. To see my behind the scenes interview with Gilmore Junio at TEDxYYC click HERE.
Another personal hero of mine, Clara Hughes also demonstrated courage this year in her cross-Canada cycle ride called “Clara’s Big Ride.” The ride aimed to raise awareness and break down stigma in relation to mental illness. As one of Canada’s most decorated athletes, winning medals in both the summer and winter Olympics, Hughes is not one to shy away from a challenge. Not only was the ride through every province and territory physically demanding but it also demanded great mental strength as she listened to the stories across the country of those struggling with their own mental health issues. She is providing a hopeful alternative to those facing mental health struggles demonstrating that they too can have a bright future.
2. Race Riots vs The Little Library that Could
In 2014, 18 year old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson Police Department officer. The shooting sparked protests and acts of vandalism in the community making many wonder if peace was possible in the midst of all of this racial tension. However, when schools shut down in Ferguson due to the threat of riots, the Ferguson Public Library chose to stay open. During the riots, Scott Bonner, the library’s director told Reddit that the “library is busier than ever.” He went on to say that
“At the library, when the kids needed us, people came from all over, from all sides of the situation, from all races and economic strata, to help. Because the people of Ferguson are willing to wrestle with their problems seriously, I believe we can, and WILL, come together in the end. We have to.”
The Ferguson library hosted ‘school sessions’ at the library. Often there were so many students in attendance that they had to overflow into the nearby Ferguson First Baptist church. They also hosted information sessions for small businesses affected by the riots to help them gain access to groups providing assistance or emergency loans. In typical years the library generally receives $3,000 in donations. Since the beginning of the riots though, there has been an outpouring of support for the library that proudly proclaimed it was a safe place for ALL humans. Donations to date have eclipsed $300,000. As Ferguson moves forward, the library will again be leading the charge with the focus for January being books that highlight Unity.
3. Disease vs Healthcare
With Ebola health care workers being declared the “Person of the Year” by Times Magazine and the Center for Disease Control listing that Ebola related deaths now number 8168 people it is easy to be overwhelmed. However, according to the Center for Disease Control Case Count in January, Nigeria, Senegal and Spain were all countries that had outbreaks for Ebola yet each of these countries have been able to declare the outbreak to be over. This gives great hope for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Bill Gates in his recent newsletter was able to point out that the success that Nigeria experienced in dealing with Ebola is in a large part due to their attention to Polio eradication.
“Nigeria has reported only six cases of polio this year, compared to more than 50 last year. What’s more, the infrastructure Nigeria has built to fight polio actually made it easier for them to swiftly contain Ebola. The fact that Nigeria is now Ebola free is a great example of how doing the work to fight things like fighting polio also leaves countries better prepared to deal with outbreaks of other diseases.”
Gates went on to describe that not only has 2014 ushered in many success stories for Polio eradication but there have also been breakthroughs in Tuberculosis, Rotavirus and AIDS.
Added to these breakthroughs, was the amazing story of the ALS ice bucket challenge. People around the world were able to increase awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations for research. According to the New York Times, people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and August 13. Besides participation in the challenge more people educated themselves on the disease. Prior to the challenge, the ALS Association stated that only half of Americans had heard of the disease, whereas in August alone, Wikipedia experienced 2.89 million views to its ALS site. The ALS association has reported that they have received an additional $100 million in funding.
4. Terrorism vs Community
2014 demonstrated that the human spirit and goodwill can surmount even dreadful acts of terror. Both the Parliamentary shootings in Canada and the cafe hostage shootings in Sydney, Australia caused a ripple of fear in their respective communities. Yet in both cases citizens responded in amazing ways to remind their community that they were all welcome.
After the Sydney hostage taking many Muslims were concerned about an Islamophobic backlash. According to the BBC, one woman reportedly began taking off her hijab while riding train. When Rachel Jacobs saw this she responded by offering to stay with the woman so she would feel safe. This action sparked a twitter viral message initiated by Tessa Kum using the hashtag ‘I’ll ride with you’ where Australians offered to ride with those concerned about potential violence. There were 40,000 tweets using the hashtag #Illridewithyou in just two hours according to Twitter Australia.
In Canada, after the parliamentary shooting, a case of Islamaphoic backlash occurred against a mosque in the town of Cold Lake, Alberta. When Mahmoud Elkadri arrived early Friday morning he saw the words spray painted across the mosque “Go Home.” Only a few hours later though people from all over the town of Cold Lake came to help repair the damage. Matt Downey and his daughter came to the mosque to deliver flowers and to show that the vandals didn’t speak for the majority of the people in the town. Other neighbours responded by taping their own messages to the window of the mosque including messages that said “You are Home.”
5. Sex Scandals vs Wise Guys
2014 also marked a sad continuation of many high profile members of the media, entertainment industry and even politics being accused of with sexual assault. If there is to be a positive that could be found in these cases, it is that many citizens are now discussing issues of consent and bringing up these topics with their children and peers. As a society we are discussing how to respect one another better especially in sexual relationships. One group who has stepped up to the challenge of having these types of discussions is the Calgary Sexual Health Centre in Calgary. The Centre realized that “most sexual health services were targeted to woman, and that while teen pregnancy rates had dramatically dropped, STI rates continued to rise.” The also noticed disturbing messages in social media around what it meant to be a man and continued rise in domestic and sexual violence. They created a program called WiseGuyz to address the problem. WiseGuys specifically targets young men between 11-14 giving them the tools to engage in healthy relationships. In its first year operating in schools, WiseGuys has already received the Award for Excellence from the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. Program coordinator, Blake Spence was also recognized as a Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Magazine. By challenging stereotypes about masculinity they are teaching young men to respect themselves and others.