When people talk about things like self-care and good emotional health, the first piece of advice they offer is “Stop watching the news!” Which makes sense. The news causes stress; stress causes wrinkles; wrinkles cause more stress, which causes insomnia, which causes three iced coffees, which causes plastic straws, which cause climate change. That’s right. I watched the news and made climate change happen. I’m sorry.
But here’s the thing—my job is watching the news. I’m a comedy writer. Specifically, I write jokes for a show called Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and that means I spend much of my day reading and watching the news and then trying to make it funny. As you can imagine, some days it can be exhausting.
I don’t have to tell you about the news. Even if you’re not watching it, you know. The news is like secondhand smoke—just being around while it’s happening is enough to make a person sick. Still, if I could summarize all the news in the world right now in just four words, it would be as follows: Grown-ups are the worst.
Now, I can acknowledge full well that I am a grown-up. I own two Dustbusters. (If for any reason the Primary Dustbuster cannot perform its duties as prescribed, the Dustbuster Understudy—or Dustbunderstudy™—will be ready to take over.) Two Dustbusters is as grown-up as it gets.
But right now I’m sick of grown-ups. Of course I’m specifically sick of the Guy We’re All Thinking of From the News. But the rest of us exhaust me too. I stay up late, unable to stop thinking about the refugee kids being torn from their parents. I wake up in the middle of the night because I can’t forget what happened to a teenage U.S. citizen, born in Dallas, who was detained for 23 days at the border. I get enraged thinking about government lawyers arguing in court that immigrant children don’t have to be given soap or blankets or toothbrushes. It’s grown-ups who are doing this and other grown-ups who are letting it happen.
And the thing about grown-ups is we already have beliefs, and we’re really, really bad at changing them. In fact, when we’re presented with evidence we’re wrong, more often than not, we double down. We have desperate Facebook arguments with people we went to high school with, somebody calls somebody else a “MAGA freak,” and the word libtard gets used by actual adult humans who somehow have friends and utility bills and jobs. And nobody changes their mind. Grown-ups are the worst.
But you know who’s not the worst? Kids.
The first time I realized I could give up on adults and reclaim all that wasted time and outrage was when I pitched a children’s book called A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo at my job. It was the story of notoriously anti-LGBTQ Vice President Mike Pence’s very real bunny, Marlon Bundo, and his totally fictional (but also totally adorable) supergay bunny-boyfriend, Wesley.
It was fun to work on, my boss talked about it on television, and all the proceeds went to the Trevor Project and AIDS United, so the whole thing was a delightful experience. (I swear the book is real, that is the premise, and it’s available for purchase nationwide.) But something else really cool happened. I started getting notes from parents about how their kids were telling their friends about how boys can fall in love with boys and girls can falling love with girls. Even better, I started getting letters and videos from kids about how “different isn’t bad. Different is special.” They were quoting our book back to me.
It occurred to me: What if this is what I do? Maybe I write for kids to help me get through the days of dealing with grown-ups. Maybe kids are the remedy for the news.
So one night, when the news became too much again, I wrote a book called The Someone New. It’s about a very nervous chipmunk named Jitterbug who is afraid to welcome someone new to her forest, specifically a wonderful snail named Pudding who has to leave his home after a flood. In the end (spoiler alert!) Jitterbug learns from her friends that new can be scary, but kindness is stronger than fear. I think you get the metaphor.
Did I write this for kids? Of course I did. Grown-ups don’t want to read books about nervous chipmunks, and otters named Duffles and Nudge. Their loss, honestly—they are solid otters who make some really good points. But I also wrote it because, in my heart of hearts, “welcome someone new” and “kindness is stronger than fear” are what I want to tell adults.
Kids encounter new things all the time—new kids at school, new experiences, even new foods. It makes sense to be a little fearful of them. But unlike adults, kids are open to change. If you give them new information, they don’t immediately get defensive or call it #fakenews. They take it in, and if it makes sense to them, they try to incorporate it into their lives.
Earlier this month Donald Trump tweeted that four U.S. citizen members of Congress should go back to the “crime infested places from which they came.” Just reading it was a gut punch. Less than 24 hours later, crowds at a Trump rally chanted, “Send her back!” about Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—again, a U.S. citizen.
I felt helpless: Is this just the America we live in now?
I didn’t know what to do, so I did the adult thing and took to Twitter. I offered to give away five copies of The Someone New. Did I think I was going to make a dent in all the horribleness that was going on? Absolutely not. Was it a way to make myself feel like I was doing something, when I had no idea how to help? For sure.
But something happened. A few minutes after I made the offer, a woman I had never met messaged me—she wanted to send me money so I could donate more books. She didn’t want anyone to know her name. She was just reading the same news I was and wanted to do something.
Great. So I was going to give away 10 books. Except just as I started to type that, I got another message—a friend who felt helpless and thought that maybe giving away another five books about how kindness is stronger than fear might help. So 15 books—until it was 20 because one girl I hadn’t talked to since high school got in touch, and then 25 thanks to a stranger who was terrified of being the kind of person who hears people chanting “Send her back” and does nothing, and then within a couple of hours it was well over 50 books, and I had to say, STOP DONATING BOOKS BECAUSE I AM NOT TOTALLY SURE I AM EQUIPPED TO MAIL THIS MANY BOOKS AND ALSO I AM CRYING.
I went to bed feeling…hopeful? I woke up to a phone call from my publisher, who said, “Why don’t we donate all those books? So all the money people were spending on books can go to a charity for immigrant kids.” And they did, and it did.
We didn’t solve racism and xenophobia that night. I barely even solved “learning how to mail 50 books.” But I learned that kindness really is stronger than fear.
I’m kidding. Ugh. Life isn’t that simple, and nothing resolves as it would in a children’s book. But I did learn that there are a lot of people out there trying their best. Oh, and that not all grown-ups are the worst.
Also, in case you’re interested, I got a metal straw. Climate change is no longer all on me. You’re welcome.
Jill Twiss is a comedy writer and #1 New York Times best-selling children's book author. Her latest book is The Someone New.
Originally Appeared on Glamour