If you haven’t seen the “Humans of New York” website or Facebook page I suggest you take a look. It is an artistic outlet that works to illustrate the diversity of human life through “daily glimpses into the lives of strangers,” as described by Brandon Stanton, the website’s creator. Stanton posts photographic portraits of strangers he encounters and includes quotes and short stories next to their pictures. Entries range from the lighthearted to the deeply moving and inspirational. All are eye opening.
This project has led to hundreds of spinoffs in other cities and schools, and I decided earlier this year that I would create a Richmond version when I returned from abroad in January. I spent weeks jotting down questions to ask participants and drafted a description for why Richmond would benefit from a page like this.
Then, my boyfriend sent me the link to “Humans of Richmond.” The exact idea I wanted to bring to life was started this past August by a hyper-motivated freshman. Touché Daniel Yoo, touché.
Since I can no longer create the page myself, I wanted to share why I believe “Humans of Richmond” can be so beneficial to our school.
Richmond is a very small university — small enough for students to have a rough understanding of who their peers are without knowing them on a personal level. Or at least that’s what we think. Too often we give our superficial judgments more gravity than they deserve and let our evaluations of someone from afar influence our perception of their character. You might know what Greek organization someone belongs to or what athletic team they play for, but still be blind to a person’s deeper “story.”
A page like “Humans of Richmond” will give us insight into the lives of others and help us conceptualize our current lack of understanding. By acknowledging the fact that we really can’t know what someone is like based on which room they sit in in D-hall, for example, we give ourselves the chance to get to know them on an unbiased level.
I also believe this page will cause a rise in empathy. As I said earlier, everyone has their own story to tell, but they might not do so for a variety of reasons. I think this project is an interesting way to allow those stories to be heard — to make public the narratives of our neighbors, professors, peers and strangers. This project will hopefully unearth our commonalities as people and perhaps illuminate the unspoken struggles of our community members. It will remind us of the innumerable things left to discover about the people who comprise this Richmond community and hopefully impel us to pursue answers.
My final reason that Humans of Richmond can be so valuable is that it is a source of positivity on social media, a forum that often contributes the opposite. Social media sites like Facebook easily become platforms for bullying and harmful judgment because of how impersonal interactions held behind a screen become. You can say something mean or hurtful without having to look a person in the face and words can be “spoken” from your fingertips without having to conjure the confidence to actually speak them aloud.
Facebook is also home to pages like Richmond Confessions that promise anonymity to its users. Anonymity is not inherently a bad thing and many use this particular page for good or humorous reasons. But, it also offers a platform for people to speak with absolutely zero threat of accountability or repercussions. The unfortunate truth is that many can use that for a negative purpose, and they do. In fact, many posters on Richmond Confessions admit to submitting judgmental and insensitive posts just to incite a response from people.
People call for censorship on the page to decrease its harmful effects, but I believe there is a better way to resolve the issue. The best way to combat the negativity from posts on pages like Richmond Confessions is not by restricting them, but by providing a strong opposing force of positivity. We are bombarded with so much negative and worthless social media on a daily basis that it would be impossible to realistically control it all, so is it even worth trying?
“Humans of Richmond” could be a breath of fresh air that contributes honest and controlled messages into cyberspace. It is a common assertion that ignorance breeds hate, and this page can certainly reduce the ignorance we have to the circumstances of other community members.
Richmond’s size is great for many reasons, but it also makes it easy to incorrectly believe that we know many people within our community. In truth, we often rely on assumptions and stereotyping to craft our perceptions of people, and in doing so, discourage ourselves from seeking out a deeper understanding. “Humans of Richmond” can aid our community by reminding us of all that is still left to learn about our neighbors, thus elevating our empathy towards them. These improvements will hopefully be seen in person and on social media alike, and contribute more overall positivity to our campus.
We’ll know people better, judge them less and hopefully be entertained and moved by their stories. Now go “like” the page — it’s good for you.
Contact Collegian contributor Diana Muggeridge at email@example.com