A Little Light

By Celia Coates

For many people in many places this is a dark time. I wasn’t feeling cheerful myself after listening to news about hospitals being bombed, giant areas of uncontrolled wildfires, the brutal treatment of children, and ego-maniacal greed and destructiveness. Gaining peace, prosperity, and planetary well-being has always been difficult, but it seems far out of reach now. As I was plowing through this grim mood, the lyrics of a 1975 hit by singer-songwriter Donna Fargo showed up in my mind:

     You can’t be a beacon
     If your light don’t shine.
     You can’t be a beacon
      If your light don’t shine.
     There’s a little light
     In all of us by God’s design,
     But you can’t be a beacon
     If your light don’t shine.

It’s a catchy tune and it bounces right along, but why had it shown up? What good could remembering it do? I felt impatient. Advice to shine your light seemed naïve and out of touch with the dreadful events of our time, and what does it mean to be a beacon anyway?

More than one wise teacher in the last few years has said that the task of this age is to find ways for love to triumph over fear. Well, it seems to me that in one way or another fear rules the majority of us. Or denial does – “Just don’t pay attention to the news.” But it seems like a gauzey recommendation that we just turn towards love. How? And how could that help anyway? It sounds too goody-goody to be a useful response given all that we are facing.

As a therapist I learned over and over again that most of us try to deal with our problems first by looking outside ourselves. We search for causes and want to place the blame on people, situations, and experiences that come at us, not from us. We don’t usually ask, “How can I change so that things will be better?” or “What part of this problem is mine?” So, trying to be wiser, I asked myself about my own light, or lack of it.  Then I felt helpless, daunted by the difficulties that surround us and – more frightened.

I decided to look up the second verse:

     How can you ask for truth
     When you do not truthful live?
     How can you ask forgiveness
     When you don’t forgive?
     I don’t mean to bring you down
     Or speak to you unkind,
     But you can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.

Adding to the questions found in the song I wondered, “How can you ask for peace if you do not peaceful live?” Or, “How can you look for prosperity if you don’t fully give?” What might create well-being for myself, for others, for the planet? Where to turn next? Where could answers be found?

Donna Fargo wrote that it’s by God’s design that there’s a little light in each of us so I wanted to know more about what the world’s belief systems and religions have said about that design and to find out if there’s any guidance about how to operate it. I discovered that there is a common rule that’s been found in virtually all religions for more than 2,000 years – the Golden Rule. The simplest wording of it found in Christianity is:“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

 In Judaism it’s: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law: all the rest is commentary.”

In Confucianism it’s: “Fidelity to one’s self and the corresponding reciprocity are not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.”

In Buddhism it’s: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find harmful.”

 In Hinduism it’s: “Do not do to another what is disagreeable to yourself.”

And in Islam it’s: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

 Aristotle was asked how we should treat our friends and his answer was: “As we should wish our friends to behave to us.”

 (These are just a few of the expressions of the Golden Rule and all of them are from WORDS TO LIVE BY by Brian Burrell published in 1997 by The Free Press. Burrell also included the clear words of Louis Armstrong: “I got a simple rule about everybody. If you don’t treat me right, shame on you.”)

This exploration did not answer most of my questions about the darkness that surrounds us, but it did give me a place to start – with my own self and with simple choices and actions. It reminded me that we are not powerless even though most of us can only act in small ways and close to home: each of us, one person, one light at a time, can care about ourselves and each other, refusing to be dimmed by fear ……..

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The image that appears on the webpage (www.WINNpost.org) that accompanies this post is by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

The copyright 2000-2020 for “You Can’t Be A Beacon If Your Light Don’t Shine” is held by AZLyrics.com.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Trudy Summers says:


  2. Anonymous says:


    Great post. When I look at the darkness and ask, “What can I do?” The answer from my High Self is always to bring some love and light in the world. It may not be much, but it is what I can do. I look for ways to use my growing interest in piano and singing to bring a little light and love into the world. So, naturally, I immediately found the song on Youtube. and i certainly will learn it. Thank you.

    Jeff Nichols

  3. N Prendergast says:

    As I have read the paper daily since the impeachment acquittal, I fear more and more for our democracy, for our way of life. Reading the Golden Rule in all these religions brings me comfort as well as the words of the song. Peace begins with me.

  4. Carol LaVack says:

    Thank you for this, Celia. Perfect timing.

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