If Only…

Human culture in 2023 is drowning in violence and anger and arrogance. I sometimes wallow in a parochial viewpoint of the situation, asserting that the problem is especially keen in the USA—that we are world leaders, but that our leadership is entirely negative. Looking around the globe, though, the problem is mostly local. But, like a spark in a field of dry, unharvested corn, it can erupt in flames, spreading with breathtaking speed. Local issues, though, can become global problems. Mass shootings in the USA, for example, can trigger “copycat” behavior in other places—it probably has and almost certainly will.

If only the resentment and fear that fuel the cycle of violence were replaced by gratitude and hope…  If only we would insist on learning compassion instead of hate…  If only we would act on our feelings of appreciation, rather than on dread and loathing, we might spread a completely different kind of attitude, one that leads to behaviors we want the entire world to model.

This morning, I read a short piece from NPR’s My Unsung Hero series. It related the story of a woman who, when in high school, was given a gift of self-confidence by a teacher who told her he liked her voice. The girl was so terrified of speaking in public, because she stuttered, that she asked her mother to write her teacher a note, asking her to be excused from an assignment to read a poem in front of her class. She was excused from the assignment, but had to read the poem to her teacher, one-on-one. It was then he expressed appreciation for her voice. That moment led her to develop confidence in herself; so much so that she became a trainer.

If only we would, collectively, focus our attention on acts of kindness and understanding, the world in which we live would be a better place. Mi novia makes a point of complimenting people, even strangers, on little things—the clothes they wear, their hair styles…simple stuff. Her motive is this: she believes people who feel appreciated will have a better day than might have occurred had they not experienced healthy esteem. And they might develop the habit of  appreciating others. If only I could develop that habit. If only the rest of the world could—would—replace hostility with kindness and good will.

We can do it. If only we commit ourselves to being the kind of people we want to encounter in our day-to-day lives, we might witness a change in the world. The sharp edges of life might smooth into gentle curves. Disdain might transform into humility; maybe even affection. Sympathy might replace cruelty. Tenderness might replace animosity. If only…


I feel melancholy at the moment. Thinking about what might be “if only…” has made me feel hopeless. I will snap out of it, though. Just thinking about the teacher whose appreciation helped give his student self-confidence is already having an effect.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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