Searching for Heroism

If you want to become physically healthier, one key is mindful eating. Nutritionists will tell you to be conscious of everything you put into your mouth, and to also pay attention to how that food or drink makes you feel. If mindful eating becomes an ingrained habit, you will most likely make better choices and your nutrition and health will improve.

We hear less about mindful consumption of media, but I would argue that the same principles apply. What we take into our minds while reading, while scrolling through our phones, or by channel-surfing affects our mental health and attitude. A non-stop diet of news (especially if it’s all from one source) can cause anxiety. Reading one doom-and-gloom article online after another can make you feel depressed and defeated. Even some TV shows that are meant to entertain can increase cynical and apathetic thoughts.

This is worth trying: stop yourself before you ingest the next bite of media, and ask, “How will this article/movie/program make me feel?” Will it inspire you or discourage you? Truly inform you or merely confirm the biases you already hold?

It’s also true that putting the right foods in your body can make you feel energetic and full of vitality, and that filling your mind with certain words and images and music can motivate you.

Last night I saw the film, “Harriet,” a film biography about Harriet Tubman, a woman who escaped from enslavement on a Maryland farm and became a leader in the Underground Railroad. I’d been looking forward to the movie and I was not disappointed. It’s not the best cinematography ever or the most imaginative film overall, but I was utterly captivated by Harriet’s story and she is portrayed with a fierce strength and determination by the actress Cynthia Erivo.


The word for her life is courage: courage which literally means, “from the heart.” She went back into enemy territory again and again because she was called to try to rescue the people she loved. One particularly impactful scene shows Harriet in a comfortable parlor in the north, almost a cocktail party environment. Abolitionist leaders are discussing the Civil War, concluding that it’s probably too dangerous to rescue slaves during wartime. Harriet delivers an impassioned speech about the necessity to not give up their work. As one of the few former slaves in the room, she tells the stories of slavery in the midst of this polite gathering: beatings, rape, children ripped from their mother’s arms. Her courageous risk-taking would continue.

Like many people in this country, for most of my life I assumed that we were on a steady uphill climb towards more justice for all. Once I realized how wrong and dangerous my assumption was, once I began to grasp the amount of hatred and bigotry that still thrive, I began seeking out inspiration. I began reading about the brave resistance to Nazism, and about how men and women who are wrongfully imprisoned today manage to survive with their spirits and integrity intact. I began seeking out stories of resistance and courage.

It may be an unusual spiritual practice, but I’ve found it essential. I have to pay attention to which stories become planted within me, which images are becoming imprinted, which words I sing, which tunes I hum.

Next on my media menu: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers — I can’t wait to see kindness celebrated on the big screen…and then the film version of the impressive and memorable book, Just Mercy, about attorney Bryan Stevenson.  Stories that keep my soul alive.

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