Let me start by saying I consider the fact that I was born in the United States the second best unintentional move I’ve ever made (the first was being incarnated as a human being as opposed to another form of life, let alone cosmic dust). Being a native New Yorker was the glorious icing on the cake.
That said, I’ve worked, visited or filmed in every state except Arkansas and I’ve loved every single one of them. I know our country is imperfect—I’ve witnessed it first hand and documented much of it—and in so doing have become acutely aware that the experience of being American varies greatly depending on the color of your skin, on how you got here, the part of the country you call home and at what time in history your family arrived. I get all of that, but I still consider myself fortunate to be American.
For while we are imperfect, the experiment of figuring out how to create a shared identity out of individual and collective diversity is an incredible endeavor of which I am proud to be a part. Indeed, it is the essential optimism of a society that is grounded in the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts that makes our country great and being a member of it so purpose driven and satisfying as it can also be angering and frustrating.
For nearly 30 years I’ve traveled the world as a filmmaker. To be honest, I have encountered a lot of negativity towards the US. At the same time, I’ve witnessed a deep curiosity and the constant appeal—if not always to our politics—to the concept and notion of who we are as a nation. People might disagree with our choices and our attitudes, but I recognize the inherent desire to be part of a society that honors its roots, not because we see the past as better than the present, but because the seeds planted by our forefathers and foremothers carry in them the potential for an even brighter future.
There is an optimism that makes being an American so unique and ultimately both messy and wonderful. The art or act of making sense of our existence is complex. Democracy in an expanding universe is not an easy thing. It is not meant to be, but still, I am drawn to and enthralled by the challenge.
Without a doubt, it is the optimism of being American that made it possible for me to dream up an idea as counter-intuitive and yet, as potent as World Vasectomy Day. Now, four years later, with 1000 participating physicians in 40 plus countries, we are the largest male-oriented family planning event in history and growing rapidly. At our core our event is also spirited by a profound sense of optimism, grounded in a belief that the way we bring life into existence matters; not only to ourselves and our wives and our children; but our communities, our cultures, our country, and our planet.
This idea is both profoundly American and deeply human. It is a sense of almost spiritual faith that tomorrow will be better if you work hard, work fair, and work together. We are not the only country that is drawn to this notion. In fact, it is the desired state of being for almost all people.
It is this optimism that also makes my reading of this year’s election so dreary. I’ve been in Kenya for the past ten weeks preparing for World Vasectomy Day 2016 and every day my inbox is filled with alerts and messages about politics. When I got here at the end of August, I read every article I could find about our elections. I was drawn to the drama, compelled by the twists and turns and obsessed by the extraordinarily high stakes. My heart was racing, and my moods were impacted by poll and punditry.
Then, in the last few weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to feel ashamed at the language, at the attitude and the profound pessimism. I couldn’t stand Donald Trump’s constant negative language and the screaming and yelling of followers who never seem to run out of groups, individuals, or communities to belittle. I was fed up with the cynicism of a Democratic party that focus-grouped, hired, or rented information to calculate what to believe at any given moment. I decided to let my absentee ballot do the talking for me; quietly and respectfully, a show of confidence that our system would win out against the temporary madness of a nation infinitely more divided than the one I know from my travels.
Here in Kenya, of course, people are deeply proud to have “fathered” an American President. They see in an African American occupying the most powerful job in the world the possibility of their own personal transformation; an optimism for our country that they don’t have for their own and sadly, we don’t have for own either. It reminds me that we still stand for something good even when I know it could be so much better.
I am honored to be here in Africa serving what I consider to be my purpose in life. I know, I too am imperfect, but still, I wake up each day committed to trying to do better. I am positive, in that American naïve sort of way, not only for my life, not only for my country but for humanity’s potential to rise beyond our most base fear and work towards a shared dream. I am not wed to the outcome of this mission. I didn’t choose this path out of obsession, but out of conviction that I will live a more fulfilled life by committing to what I believe is possible, not surrendering to what I fear isn’t.
World Vasectomy Day is by no means the answer to every challenge we face, but we believe that as humanity is responsible for the problems we’ve created, we also contain within us the answers and solutions. We don’t believe numbers determine our destiny, but we also know that every single social conflict we face is made more difficult to resolve with a fast growing population. We don’t need a billion more people; we need to take better care of the 7.4 billion already here.
My appeal to you is that as this election cycle gratefully and finally comes to a close, you do not give up hope. We are not doomed unless we stop believing. I know World Vasectomy Day by definition might sound like an abstract idea, marginal and off beat, but trust me when I say that for this group of men who are ready to call the Good Men Project their own, there is a role for you in our mission. Indeed ours is an essentially optimistic story of a world where a better future for our children and our children’s children is not a dream, but a reality. It’s one defined by a million acts of kindness, and million more of compassion are aggregated into a collective movement for social good.
This is the post-election story we are telling from our temporary home in Kenya. It is the one we invite you to join.
We can’t do it alone. Join us. Visit our web page, like our Facebook page, connect with us on Twitter, and if you can, please consider supporting our crowdfunding campaign. Share your vasectomy stories, get a vasectomy if the time is right and help us spread the movement as we commit to building sustainable vasectomy programs the world over.
Donate to build a sustainable vasectomy outreach program in Kenya! We’re looking for $35,000. Will you help?
Photo: Getty Images