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Everything you like is Team Jedi, and everything else is Sith. That's not OK.

We're making the same mistakes they made a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Everything you like is Team Jedi, and everything else is Sith. That's not OK.

There once was an orphan who lived in the desert.

Raised on a farm by his aunt and uncle, the only opportunity he could see to free himself from a life of poverty was to join the military. But then tragedy struck: Government soldiers destroyed his family, home, and livelihood — all because of some questionable intelligence.

A devout old veteran soon befriended the boy, filling his head with fantasies of glory, strength, and war. At the man's behest, the boy joined a radical guerrilla force and within days had bombed the most expensive piece of government property ever created, murdering hundreds of people in the process.


Obviously I'm referring to Luke Skywalker. Who else?

To be clear: I don't actually think that Luke Skywalker is a terrorist. I mean, we're talking about a fictional character here.


Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

But framing the story that way wasn't difficult to do. After all, that's the entire point of fiction: to understand the world (or galaxy as the case may be) through someone else's eyes. And nowhere is this experience more powerful than in those timeless, grandiose mythologies like "Star Wars."

That's why Luke Skywalker is the Democrat raging against police states and corruption.

And he's the Tea Partier trying to return the nation to the freedom and religious values of yore.

He's the Libertarian crusading against government oversight, wishing for a world where even Wookies thrive on meritocracy.

Or, ya know, a radical religious terrorist. Your space-mileage may vary.


An entire Jedi fan-family! Photo by GabboT/Flickr.

It's so easy for us to put ourselves into the hero's shoes, and that's exactly why these stories resonate with so many people.

But at the same time, it's easy for all of us to make "the other guy" seem like the villain, regardless of their actual beliefs. We all want to be the one who fires that proton torpedo and destroys the Death Star, defeating The Enemy and making the galaxy safe for The Good Thing We Believe In.

If we are all Luke Skywalker, orphaned son-turned-aspiring Jedi knight, then anyone who disagrees is a mustache-twirling, Force-lightning-crackling Sith lord, no questions asked.

Except that's ... not how the world works, is it?

Nothing is purely good or evil. Reality is messy, ugly, and hard. We get so bogged down in the Jedi stuff ('cause let's face it, that stuff's awesome), that we don't think about the Stormtroopers, for example. Are they stand-ins for the Nazis who were just following orders? Or are they the same as American soldiers, fighting for their righteous beliefs in a free market economy that allows the Hutts and other hard-working entrepreneurs to thrive? Maybe they actually are trying to protect the people from the random, scrappy actions of those religious extremists in the Rebel Alliance.

Or maybe all those assumptions can co-exist. Maybe our empathy shouldn't stop with the protagonist.


Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

Empathy is one of the major themes of "Star Wars." That's why we still love it, still talk about it, and still need it.

Let me tell you about another young orphan boy from the desert, one who was also born into economic struggle. This boy was also seduced by religion, and committed himself to a life of righteousness rather than acknowledging his own human flaws.

He, too, loses everyone he loves. As a quadriplegic man, he overcomes adversity by committing himself to the opposite extreme, rising through the ranks of the military to become a renowned leader and warrior.

And yet he struggles to connect with people — specifically, with the family that he never knew he had. Every attempt he makes just perpetuates that same endless cycle of poverty and abuse that he grew up with. Until one day, he learns to find the balance between the polarized extremes of his light and the dark sides.

But everything changes when, with his last mortal breath, Anakin Skywalker absolves his estranged son and frees him from that same unending cycle.


Image by doctorwonder/Flickr.

That's the most important lesson we can learn from "Star Wars": real life doesn't have a Dark Side and a Light Side.

I'm not saying that we should all be rushing to throw any emperors down Death Star shafts. But what happens at the end of "Return of the Jedi" is powerful because it breaks the cycle, freeing the galaxy from the overly-simplistic binary of the Light Side and the Dark Side. Vader embraces both sides of the Force — seeking goodness while accepting his flaws and finding a better way through the center.

That's what it means when they talk about bringing balance to the Force. It's not about the eternal struggle of good versus evil — it's about going beyond those oversimplified extremes and embracing empathy as well as ambiguity.


Note: By "ambiguity" I don't mean "amoral mercenary feared throughout the galaxy." Photo by Josh Hallett/Flickr.

So why do we keep telling the same stories of good versus evil over and over and over again? Because we still need them.

There are Republicans, and there are Democrats; and whichever side you're on are the righteous Jedi knights, with the opposition being unequivocally Sith.

There's patriotism, and there's terrorism; and there's no room for nuance when oil freedom is on the line.

You're a capitalist or a communist; your god is right or you're an evil heathen; you're a lazy welfare moocher or a self-made success who earned everything you have.

It was the Empire against the Rebel Alliance; now it's the First Order against the Resistance. What did Darth Vader die for if we're still stuck in that endless cycle of polar opposition?


Photo by Lucius Kwok/Flickr.

As long as there's an "us" and "them," we'll always keep on fighting.

As sad I would be to not have another "Star Wars" film — and as fun as it is to come up with absolutely ridiculous readings of my favorite stories — I'd much rather live in a world that goes beyond that same eternal struggle and where well-meaning people can exist in the grays between the Dark and the Light.

May the Force be with you, in any shade that understands the human struggle.

Photo by Josh Hallett/Flickr.

True

Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

For many people, seeing any animal in captivity is a tragic sight. But when an animal cannot safely be released into the wild, a captive-but-comfortable space is the next best thing.

That's the situation for a dozen female pachyderms who have joined the Yulee refuge at the White Oak Conservation Center north of Jacksonville, Florida. The Asian elephants, who are endangered in the wild, are former circus animals that were retired from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2016. The group includes two sets of full sisters and several half-sisters. Elephants tend to live together in multi-generational family groups led by a matriarch.

Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter, who fund the refuge for rare species, say they are "thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore."

"We are working to protect wild animals in their native habitats," the Walters said in a statement. "But for these elephants that can't be released, we are pleased to give them a place where they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives."

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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