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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.

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.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Your weekly roundup of internet sunshine.

Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

The scarf, a simple accessory that some find an essential fashion piece. Both fashionable and function with the warmth they provide, scarves can be a valuable gift for any occasion or person. Here, we've selected our best selling scarves from our store. At Upworthy Market, when you purchase a product, you directly support the artisans who craft their own products, so with every purchase, you're doing good. These scarves are not only unique, but they are hand-made by local artisans and all under $30.

1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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In a segment called “What Do You Know About The Female Body?” men try—and hilariously fail—to answer even the most basic questions, like “does a female have one uterus, or two?” much to the amazement of some of their female partners.

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