This week, millions of people around the world celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Five days of meaningful reflection and time with family. Five days of food, flowers and traditional dress, all radiant with splendescent colour to mark the celebration. The story of Diwali is interpreted differently in different regions but its universal theme of goodness triumphant over evil, light overcoming darkness resonates worldwide.
For some strange reason – my brain has always made random associations – thinking about Diwali and light made me think of sunshine which prompted me to think of the musical Hair and its iconic soundtrack. That triggered a childhood memory from when I was likely six-years-old and sitting in Sunday school. I recalled my Sunday school teacher singing, “Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sunshine In.” The first verse went as follows:
“Mommy told me something a little kid should know. It’s all about the devil and I’ve learned to hate him so. She said he causes trouble when you let him in the room. He will never ever leave you if your heart is filled with gloom.”
Not surprisingly, the chorus offered up a child-appropriate solution to this rather worrisome problem. Simply put, we just had to “let the sunshine in, face it with a grin.” We were told that, “smilers never lose and frowners never win.” So, the best thing anyone could do was “open up your heart and let the sunshine in.” I think the song stuck with me for so long because Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm sang it on an episode of The Flintstones.
Sunshine is like a balm for the soul, a much-needed respite from long, dark nights. Letting the sunshine in, turning the lights on (figuratively and sometimes literally) is part of my job. As someone who works hard to support students and all the adults who support them, I believe it’s my responsibility to be a source of light – a help, not a hindrance, so to speak. It’s always been important to do this but it feels even more so lately as the toll of a lingering pandemic, widespread financial and political uncertainty and devastating news from around the world darkens our every day.
The challenge of spreading light is made even more formidable when dealing with adolescents. The world of social media that adolescents inhabit feels designed to take them to the dark side. Algorithms used by platforms such as TikTok and Instagram feed into their worst impulses and breed even greater insecurities for teens who are already developmentally vulnerable. Children and teens are shown video clips celebrating anorexia, teaching self-harm techniques, and daring them to try foolish challenges (including an auto theft challenge that most recently ended in tragedy for four teens). These apps take young people down a rabbit hole of darkness and decay that deepens the more they engage with the technology. Designed to create true addiction, the apps worm their way into the user’s life until they become their socially accepted drug of choice. Any attempt to limit usage is often met with withdrawal-triggered outrage. And the most frustrating thing is that we all know it’s happening, we all see the negative effects, but no one seems to know quite what to do.
I don’t have the answer to what is now a widespread societal challenge, but at the risk of sounding trite, I do think we could all use a bit more light in our day to day. The song’s invitation to “let the sunshine in” sounds ridiculous in its simplicity but the more I reflect on the message, the more I see it as an invocation to mental, physical and spiritual wellness. Darkness will, at times, surround us just as night surely follows day but most of us have the ability to find even a small glimmer of light. That is the message we need to remember for ourselves and the message we need to share with our children. Teach them how to pull back the curtains, step into the sunshine and find the bright moment in an otherwise dark day. Explicitly talk about the negative impact of staying too long in spaces and places and relationships that bring us down. Encourage them to disconnect during dinner, to explore the outdoors while leaving the phone at home, to think critically about the way the social media world is manipulating them and, most of all, to laugh until they cry. In an act of collective rebellion and salvation, let us all let the sunshine in.