An Impractical Way of Improving the World


Mahebourg, Mauritius

When left alone with my brain—between podcasts and the speed of life I maintain, it doesn’t happen often—I can get pretty idealistic, relinquishing anything that resembles possibility, feasibility, or likability. I dream up these ways of making the world better. My latest idea infringes on common sense. It trounces logic. And it forgets the concept of privacy. Despite these drawbacks, I think with this little brainchild, the entire world would become a place even Ghandi would approve of.

I think I actually borrowed this concept from a 1999 Kevin Costner movie (I love Kevin Costner). In For the Love of the Game, Costner is on a date with the journalist who becomes the love of his life, played by Kelly Preston. She says she thinks people should wear signs around their necks just saying what their story is or what they’re thinking. Billy (Kevin) asks what hers would say and she writes down, “Yes.” That’s a little simple for what I’m planning here but it’s a starting point. I always knew Kevin Costner and I would save the world together.

So here it is. What if we all had descriptions of our hardships or what makes us good people floating above our heads for other people to read? They might say things like “I am unemployed but trying really hard to find a job” or “I lost custody of my kids because my ex-husband is evil” or “I used to run every day but then I found out I have a heart condition and now I can’t walk any faster than this.” Alternatively signs might read “I teach kids how to crochet in my free time” or “I visit a nursing home on Tuesdays and bring Reese’s Cups for a woman named Mary” or “I’ve worked on Baltimore’s Westside for 40 years.” (Okay, all of those three were about my mom.)

I’ve got some stipulations.

  1. The signs would have to be true but since this is my fantasy world, I’m not going to worry about how the fact checking works. Not my problem.
  2. They’d have to say the good things about people which would hopefully force people to make better decisions. I won’t address whether or not they will include the bad things people do. What do you think?
  3. The point of the signs is for interactions with strangers. You don’t have to have them out when you’re around people you already know.
  4. I do think that hardships should be part of the signs, just because I think that hardships help us see humanity in others. We soften when we know someone is going through something. I haven’t decided about things like “I won the lottery” or “My dad’s a billionaire and I get $25 million when I graduate college.” (Okay, those two are about me.) What do you think?
  5. The signs would not display our inner-most thoughts. As Aubs pointed out, if they did then we’d be in trouble.

I solidified this topic for today’s blog while reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. At the start of the book, he paints the world of West Baltimore.

“The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length fur-collared leathers, which was their armor against their world. They would stand on the corner of Gwynn Oak and Liberty, or Cold Spring and Park Heights, or outside Mondawmin Mall, with their hands dipped in Russell sweats. I think back on those boys now and all I see is fear, and all I see is them girding themselves against the ghosts of the bad old days when the Mississippi mob gathered ’round their grandfathers so that the branches of the black body might be torched, then cut away.” (p. 14)

What if my signs allowed people to see one’s struggle and know it and feel for it? Would there be less shooting? Would we all be more likely to look at someone else, read his story, and think, “Yea, I know what that’s like.”

With our clothing it’s already as if we wear the story we’re trying to portray, right? So why not just wear what you want and then rely on your sign?

My signs would be helpful in traffic. My car is where I say the most terrible things I’d never say to anyone out loud. And I know it’s bad. If I could read the struggle (let’s ignore the obvious concerns about driver safety for a second) someone has, I might be less apt to be angry about a shitty lane change or more willing to let someone in front of me. I might be less likely to yell to my Corolla but really to that other driver, “F you you f-er.” Because who would actually say that to someone who is a human, good person who goes through the hard parts of life? Only a monster.

This might be one of the reasons I like The Bachelor shows so much. Everyone has his or her neat little story. Rachel was the bachelorette who hadn’t found a guy who would commit. Dean is the one who has the weird daddy issues. Nick kept getting rejected. I think ABC coaches each person to form his or her story and then asks all people to stick to their respective tales of woe. There’s no room for nuance in Bachelor Nation. We viewers can’t handle it.

I guess since this will never happen, maybe we should all just live in a way that each person we encounter has struggles and does good things. And, we should live in a way that our “good things” parts of our signs are something we’re proud for others to read, even Ghandi’s ghost.


5 thoughts on “An Impractical Way of Improving the World

  1. I love this! I would support your movement. “We soften when we know someone is going through something” I think we could build on this.
    what kind of material would the signs be made of? Would it require a whole lot of laminating? I LOVE to laminate.


  2. I like your impractical idea of signs, it would help make us aware of each others ‘commonness’, everyone has ups and downs, bad times as well as good. We need to be reminded that it’s not Republicans against Democrats, whites against blacks, etc. but that we are all in this together and we share so many of the same feelings and experiences. Compromise, forgive, explain, have mercy, teach, understand and get along. I think that’s what we all, all, need to do to make this a better world. Here is where I break into “We are the world, we are the people….. “


  3. A “sign” I try to display everyday is a simple smile. No heavy lifting, no laminating, no upkeep really except for a toothbrush and floss (that’s for you, Mo). I love your perspective Amanda, and Kevin Costner too! I especially like to flash my sign at unsuspecting strangers who are unsure, sometimes, how to react. Mostly, as they read my sign they display their own sign by returning a smile and I feel that we’ve connected on a level that can only make our respective days better. A fabulous little “sign of the times” that we all carry within and need to pull out more often!
    (Btw-you have one of the best smiles ever :))


  4. Pingback: Let There B More Love | Write, Amandy

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