BRANDEN HARVEY: THE GOODNEWSPAPER
The internet, many times, can feel like an endless abyss with a wealth of information pressing in on all sides. Hostility and hatred runs rampant on our feeds, calling into question the possibility of using social media for good. Branden Harvey has succeeded in finding the balance – after gaining a prominent presence on Instagram for his photography, he has stewarded his platform for humanitarianism and social change. Branden has spent years traveling the world, focusing on bringing hope to people through story manifested in photos, newsletters, and podcasts. And now his heart for humanity is extending into something tangible: the Goodnewspaper. I talked to Branden about the gravity of narrative, his own story, and what he has envisioned for the Goodnewspaper.
“The Goodnewspaper helps you celebrate good news by sharing hopeful stories you might not know about, and helps you become good news by providing tangible action steps on how to make a difference in the world in big and small ways. The stories and tools inside will leave you feeling less overwhelmed, and more capable of being a part of the good in the world.”
You can learn more about the Goodnewspaper and back the project here.
You have a pretty unique series of events that landed you on your current platform — can you tell us about how you got to the place you are now?
BH – Oh my gosh, I have absolutely no idea. Ha! In a lot of ways, where I have ended up has been accidental. When I first started my career as a photographer, I was 16. I took a class in high school that allowed me to use a DSLR camera for a year and it changed everything for me. Photography is how I learned how to take risks. It’s how I discovered that at my core, I’m an artist— a storyteller. It taught me how to discover inspiration all around me and that I was passionate about telling stories that mattered; stories that made a positive difference in the lives of other people.
What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which narratives have impacted you and your life.
BH – I recently gave a talk on the importance of storytelling and decided to investigate if there has been any scientific research on the topic. I was so amazed by what I found. There has been research done by neuroscientists who have been studying the effects of narrative on the brain. They have found that whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. It activates a part of our brain called “insula”, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust. What’s incredible about all of this is that it proves storytelling is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. I think about the occasions when I’ve gotten to spend a good chunk of time with people who were seemingly different from me. People in far away countries, people in my neighborhood without homes, people I work with who I disagreed with. Once I get to know their background, their life experiences, their hopes and dreams, their relationships, everything else fades away. Real stories are the ultimate connector. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend most of my adult life challenging my preconceived notions about others and finding myself more connected with a diverse number of people than I ever thought possible.
You mentioned that the year 2016 was one of the hardest. What were some of the challenges and instances of division you witnessed that drove you to start this project?
BH – Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been an optimistic, happy-go-lucky guy. I grew up in a small town in Washington and just never experienced many tragedies that really shook up my worldview that life is, for the most part, awesome. But 2016, all of that changed. In many ways, it was the worst year of my life. Politics divided our country and terrorism felt like more than a real threat than ever but more than anything, I think I was really truly waking up to the realities of the injustices of the world. I started paying attention to the systematic oppression of people of color. I paid attention to the police shootings that were happening regularly. I became more aware of the hateful rhetoric online. And on a more personal level, I had a number of people in my life who were dealing with deep loss and mental health issues. All of this started weighing on me until it officially broke me. I was tired of sitting still in all of this pain. I knew there was no way I could just forget about it and go back to the way my life was before. I knew I had to do something. And that’s where my passion for hopeful storytelling began. I started searching for stories of secretly incredible heroes. Because I was needing hope and inspiration more than ever, and I wanted to be able to provide hope for others.
Why do you find it important to stay optimistic and focus on mental health and self-care during resistance?
BH – To me, optimism, or hope means believing in the “the now and the not yet.” It’s seeing where the world should be or could be, and then figuring out what your role is to get it there. Our anger and frustration with injustice can and should be used to fuel us in our fight for creating the world a better place for everyone. I think numbing out this anger in the name of self-care can be a dangerous road to go down. It gives us the opportunity to become apathetic and have less empathy for others. But at the same time, there has to be a balance otherwise we definitely will face burnout. When you’re doing work this important and heavy, there’s no way around it – you will feel face exhaustion at some point. Some days, standing up against injustice or cynicism or brokenness will feel like you’ve taken the world onto your shoulders. Being intentional about self-care and taking care of your mental health has to be a priority. You have to know what your limits are to how much you can give and set boundaries in advance. Not out of selfishness but out of LOVE for others. I think of it like the way they talk about oxygen masks on planes. Flight attendants always remind you to make sure to place the oxygen mask over your mouth before you take time to help someone else. In order to love and serve others well, you have to make sure you’re breathing first.
What are some of the practical ways the Goodnewspaper will move others to clear action and positive involvement?
BH – The Goodnewspaper revolves around two core idea: Celebrate good news. Become good news. First, it’s so important to be aware of the good that’s already happening in the world. There are brave, creative, innovative people fighting against the brokenness of the world to create hope, beauty, and healing everywhere. You just have to pay attention. We’re using the Goodnewspaper as an opportunity to celebrate the people, ideas, and movements that are changing the world for the better. We get to admire them and cheer them on, but we can’t stop there. Second, we get to join these world changers in doing work that matters. We can’t stand on the sidelines for long or we’ll just grow in our apathy. But at the same time, taking action is difficult. And honestly, taking action can feel overwhelming. For much of 2016, when I thought about an issue a huge as global refugee crisis— one of the largest humanitarian crises of our generation— I’d freeze up. I wanted to take action, I truly cared, but it was overwhelming to fathom where to start. What would be meaningful? What would be helpful? What would move the needle? We’re building tools into the Goodnewspaper to help people take action on the issues they come to care about. These tools will provide tangible action steps for people to make a difference in big or small ways. At its core, the Goodnewspaper serves up inspiration about the people already doing incredible work, and then gives subscribers the tools to join those people in making a difference— and in the process, experience the growth, sense of meaning, and fulfillment that comes with being a part of the solution.
You launched your Kickstarter just a week ago and it’s already been met with eager support and fully funded (and then some!). How has this whole process been for you?
BH – I wasn’t expecting this at ALL. I have been so blown away by the support we’ve received. It’s been so encouraging to see how many people connect with this project — it’s just proven to me how much we are really craving some positivity and hope these days. Knowing there are people out there who are craving the same thing has made me feel less alone. I feel like we now have a unique community— a movement— of people who believe that focusing on the good in the world is important. In the days leading up to the Kickstarter though, I was so worried. And I never ever experience worry. My wife Sammi said seeing that I was worried made HER worried. Ha! So I talked to my counselor about it. (Counselors are the best.) He said in this scenario, the fact that I was worried meant that I really cared. That this mattered to me. That this mattered. Period. I probably could have puked on launch morning. Pressing the “Submit” button to make the Kickstarter page live was such a hard moment for me. Not only was I worried what my friends and family were going to think of the project but I was worried because I knew that if this project failed, EVERYONE would know; everyone in my life would know I was a “failure”. Then, less than 3 days in, we blew past our minimum goal on Kickstarter and we’ve continued to see people subscribe from around the world. And the subscriptions are still rolling in! Since the beginning, our goal and hope for this paper was to get it in as many hands as possible because we think this will genuinely empower those that read it. Our hope is that those who read it and become empowered will genuinely help people around the world.
What can we do to support the Goodnewspaper in the meantime?
BH – Join our movement of people who celebrate good news by subscribing on Kickstarter! We’ll sell The Goodnewspaper on our website later on but it’s a much better deal to order it today through Kickstarter. The other thing that you can do is help us share about The Goodnewspaper. Share this story. Share our video. Share the Kickstarter. When you share, talk about why good news and taking action is important to you. The more people we get in this community, the better we can make this paper and the more of a positive difference we can make in the world. Together.