People are good ... or how to start a grassroots peace movement

November 12, 2017 1:26:16 AM

Jan Swoope - jswoope@cdispatch.com

 

What if we all believed that people are good -- what might the world be like?  

 

That simple questions is at the heart of Huvinity, a "T-shirt-giving, change-making, trust-building, peace-laying grassroots movement." It's all about finding good in what some see as a not-so-good world, said founder Meagan O'Nan of Starkville.  

 

O'Nan -- speaker, author, peace warrior -- has been increasingly troubled this past year by what seems a general climate of unrest. 

 

"I just started noticing a real sense of frustration in people, divisiveness, arguments and anger happening around me, and I felt the need to do something different," she said.  

 

Her response was Huvinity, a word that combines "humans" and "divinity," and a concept that offers people physical tools and opportunities to spread a little kindness. The tools? T-shirts and wristbands with the message "people are good." 

 

"When you buy a shirt (or bracelet), we give you one, on us, to give to someone you don't know," O'Nan said. "The underlying thing for me is just trying to build trust between people again." 

 

 

 

Why now? 

 

Many believe a current climate of divisiveness at the highest levels of government has trickled down to affect not only local politics, but relationships in communities and even families. 

 

"Social media, while an irreplaceable modality for change, has also unfortunately contributed to a national and global climate of mistrust and separation," O'Nan said on Huvinity's Facebook page. " ... People feel alone and attacked and hatred and reaction have become commonplace responses to many of today's challenges."  

 

Even so, O'Nan's personal philosophy remains rooted -- that humankind is essentially good. And she believes people want to relate in simple, positive ways with each other. 

 

Sarah Jo Adams-Wilson of Starkville thinks so, too. She pastors at Longview United Methodist Church and Adaton United Methodist Church. Her husband, Jake Adams-Wilson, is associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Starkville. Sarah Jo was immediately enthusiastic about the movement when she learned of it this past week. 

 

"First, it's the concept of Huvinity, this idea of a relationship between humans and the divine. That's because that intimate relationship is one of the first things we see in the Bible, in the creation story in Genesis ...  

 

"I also like the tangible aspect to the peace movement: There's something you actually do with your hands. You buy a shirt, and you give a shirt away, which is an opportunity, at its best, to have something in common with someone you may not think you have something in common with. An opportunity to show kindness to strangers is a good thing." 

 

Kindness abroad 

 

Brenda O'Bannon took a T-shirt with her in September to Scotland, ready to spread a positive message far from home. Several days of the trip went by, and the retired Starkville educator, who taught O'Nan in high school, had not felt compelled yet to pass the shirt on.  

 

"Then one day in Glasgow we went in this restaurant off the beaten path," she recounted. "There were very few foreigners there, and people started paying all this attention to us." In fact, when the chef realized he had American guests, he was eager to meet and talk with them, even bringing samples of his varied dishes to their table. 

 

"His name was Ashley, and he was 29, with a bright personality, and the more we talked, I thought, 'This is who we want to give it to,'" said O'Bannon. At the end of the meal, she gifted the shirt and explained the premise behind it. 

 

"He said 'hold on,' and stepped out and came back wearing the shirt," O'Bannon said. "He was just beaming, and I knew he was the right person." 

 

 

 

Random kindness 

 

Joy Ames has given away several "people are good" bracelets, one recently to a kind woman in a Starkville convenience store. At checkout, Ames discovered she was short of funds to cover her entire purchase; the stranger in line offered to add the unpaid items to her own tab.  

 

"I don't know her name, but I gave her the bracelet and asked her if she would wear it," said a grateful Ames. "It's all about peace, and these days everyone seems angry, or aggressive or mad about something. I feel like I'd like to spread peace and remind people that we can be nice to one another. With a physical object to hand someone, it's so easy." 

 

 

 

Campus input 

 

O'Nan recently spoke about the movement and importance of effective communication to an organizational communication class at Mississippi State.  

 

"She asked for input, as all good speakers do," said instructor Kathleen Olivieri. During the exchange, students offered feedback about "people are good." 

 

"It was actually one of the football players who recommended wouldn't it be nice if we had bracelets that had 'people are good' on them," Olivieri recalled. O'Nan liked the idea and ordered silicone wristbands almost immediately. She made sure the students got one once bracelets arrived.  

 

Everyone likes to be asked their opinion, Olivieri said, but this time students saw someone take their idea and do something with it. 

 

"They got to see an idea considered, implemented and come full circle back to them," she continued. "That was a really cool learning experience." 

 

 

 

Perception 

 

The class really understood what it was about, said O'Nan, remembering comments by MSU running back Aeris Williams at the end of the presentation. 

 

"He said I get it," O'Nan paraphrased. "You're trying to shift the energy to something positive because everything around us is so negative. Like what you put out there is what you get back."  

 

Exactly, O'Nan believes. People often fail to recognize how powerful their perception of the world is. 

 

"If you believe people are bad, then you're going to see bad people wherever you go, and if you truly believe people are good, you're going to see the good in people." 

 

Of course, O'Nan has heard a variety of responses to "people are good."  

 

"I've heard 'most people are good,' 'people are good, except for a few' or 'wouldn't it be nice if that were true,'" she said. She understands; it's hard to really believe that all people are good.  

 

"But I'm not really asking people to do that. ... It's not that I'm dismissing anything that's happening in the world. I'm just giving people an opportunity to see the world differently. For me, it's a reminder, it's an opportunity to put something positive out there ... it's about pulling people forward." 

 

In recent months, "people are good" has gained momentum. "Buy one-get one free to give" shirts and bracelets are being purchased online at huvinity.com, at Thrive Health in Starkville and have been picked up by a couple of retail shops in Colorado.  

 

"People are good" enthusiasts know T-shirts and wristbands may not change the world, but the message can foster moves in the right direction.  

 

Sarah Jo Adams-Wilson hasn't given a shirt or bracelet away yet but looks forward to the right moment. It may happen anywhere, in a hospital waiting room, or perhaps a checkout line. 

 

"My inclination is to look for someone who looks like they may need an act of peace in their life that day -- that could be a parent at a cash register with kids who are acting up, or someone who seems like they're having a rough week. It's an opportunity to show peace to someone who might really need it."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.