7.4 billion grains in the world…how well do you know any of them?

When I began working as a journalist, I understood the profession was in fact, a form of applied psychology.

There was just one actual topic: the billions of living grains we call people.

Who they were, what they were doing, when they did extraordinarily good and bad things, where they did it, why they did it, and of course, how.

I loved my job so very much because I loved discovering people. So many of these grains over the years, touched my heart.

Some of these grains ran powerful companies. Some of these grains were in prison. Some of these grains had peculiar illnesses. Some of these grains came from foreign countries. Some of these grains were old, but sprightly poets. Some of these grains had expertise in obscure subject areas. Some of these grains went undercover to keep people safe. Some of these grains had personal tragedies as youth and those traumas sometimes landed them in trouble, or made them determined to find a career that would help them protect others from suffering the same fate.

It took a while to know those grains. I let my subjects talk and guide the conversation.

But we live in different times where we don’t really get to know grains in context.

Journalism was always about reacting rather than reflecting. You can’t just scan a Facebook profile and think you know something about a person, but people scan a headline and then make decrees about people the same way they look at a tweet and then run head first into some uninformed opinion.

That’s not the way to understand people. That’s the way you make yourself ignorant of them.

Person number 3 that everyone should know is this man.

20090603-tank-cole-1000px

The man standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests in China.

No one actually knows who he is or what happened to him.

I did make an effort to find out about fifteen years ago, always getting conflicting stories.

These days, people would be taking selfies and posting it on their feeds.

In 1989, it wasn’t all about you.

It was about connecting to other grains and making your feelings known.

But to this very day, no one knows who he is, and yet he should be known by everyone.

That is a grain who had a lot to say, and said it that way.

And yet, we know nothing about him.

That is an absolute epic journalistic breakdown on an international and historical scale.

It is one of journalism’s greatest failures.

We let a grain slip us by.

We let a lot of grains slip us by.

How many young children stray too far for too long and are never reported missing ever again?

How many homeless people have we allowed to become anonymous cannon fodder.

How many battered women suffer in silence?

How many abused workers don’t scream because no one wants to listen to their agony?

How many grains are out in the world right now?

How many do you really know?

Journalism was the way we could learn about them — even the things they did not want to divulge?

Or the things they never even know about themselves.

A star is but a grain in the sky, and yet the one closest to us gives us life.

We are but a grain on this planet, and yet we know so little about one another.

Yet we must break down barriers to know each other.

We must push past tweets to see each other more clearly in order to better understand one another.

Because we don’t know person #3, we owe it to ensure that never happens again.

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